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Court Agrees with Justice Department’s Position that USERRA Applies in U.S. Territories; Denies Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Motion to Dismiss

September 14, 2016

On Aug. 29, 2016, the Virgin Islands Superior Court denied a motion to dismiss filed by the Government of the Virgin Islands in Shorn Joseph v. Government of the Virgin Islands, a case brought under the Uniformed Servicemembers Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA).

In his complaint, Shorn Joseph, a First Lieutenant and Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army Reserves and a member of the Virgin Islands National Guard, alleged that he was terminated in violation of USERRA from his position at the Virgin Islands Legislature while on leave for military training.

The government of the Virgin Islands moved to dismiss, arguing that Virgin Islands has sovereign immunity from USERRA claims.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of the Virgin Islands, in partnership with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, filed a statement of interest arguing that USERRA’s jurisdictional provision subjects all states and territories to private suit in their own courts, regardless of whether a state or territory has consented to suit.

The Superior Court denied the Virgin Islands’ motion to dismiss, allowing Lieutenant Joseph’s claims to proceed.

USERRA applies to all employers and protects the rights of uniformed servicemembers to retain their civilian employment prior to, during and following absences due to military service obligations, and provides that servicemembers shall not be discriminated against because of their military obligations.

The Justice Department has prioritized the enforcement of servicemembers’ rights under USERRA.  Additional information about USERRA can be found on the department’s websites at www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov, as well as on the Department of Labor’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.

Shorn Joseph v. Government of the Virgin Islands is assigned case number ST-11-CV-419.

Topic(s): 
Servicemembers Initiative
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Updated March 3, 2017