Yesterday, the Department of Justice submitted a written statement for the record to the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee’s Hearing on Pending Servicemembers and Veterans Legislation. The statement supports the proposed amendments to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994 (USERRA), which aim to clarify the procedural rights of members of the uniformed services and improve the enforcement of such employment and reemployment rights.
Since 2004, when the department took on responsibility for litigating USERRA cases, the department has vigorously enforced USERRA. In this time period, the department has filed 95 USERRA lawsuits and favorably resolved 151 USERRA complaints on behalf of the nation’s servicemembers and veterans. Importantly, the department provides legal assistance for those servicemembers who may not be able to find or afford private attorneys to take up their cause, giving a voice to the concerns of servicemembers and veterans that might not otherwise be heard.
Proposed amendments to USERRA include:
- allowing the Unites States to serve as plaintiff in all suits filed by the Attorney General, and not just in suits filed against state employers;
- providing the department with pattern-or-practice authority to enforce USERRA by granting independent authority to the Attorney General to investigate and file suit to challenge a pattern-or-practice in hiring that violates USERRA;
- explicitly revoking state sovereign immunity so that servicemembers are able to bring a USERRA action against a state employer in either state or federal court;
- revising pension contribution calculations so that a servicemember’s pension contribution is comparable to the average contribution of similarly-situated employees;
- adding compensatory and punitive damages so as to better compensate servicemembers for losses suffered due to USERRA violations;
- providing for civil investigative authority in USERRA investigations;
- detailing disabilities discovered after a servicemember resumes work for purposes of reemployment determinations; and
- clarifying that servicemembers are not bound by arbitration agreements that are entered into prior to their service obligations.
The department believes that these amendments to USERRA would provide us with critical enhanced enforcement capabilities and buttress current servicemember protections.