Justice Department Files Federal Lawsuit Against Park City Business for Violating the Employment Rights of Utah Naval Reserve Member
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S Attorney Carlie Christensen of the District of Utah announced today the filing of a complaint in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City against Veteran’s Trading Company (VTC), a business with headquarters in Park City, Utah. The complaint alleges the business violated the employment rights of Naval Reserve Captain Paul M. Costello under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Costello is a Navy veteran with a disability who has served his country as an F-18 fighter pilot. Since 1997, he has served as a member of the United States Naval Reserve.
According to the complaint, filed by the United States on Costello’s behalf, Costello’s military service was a motivating factor in VTC’s decisions to deny his request for re-employment and, ultimately, to terminate his employment. The United States claims that both actions by VTC violated Costello’s USERRA rights.
The complaint further alleges that in July 2013, VTC fired Costello from his job as company President due to his military service and subsequently denied Costello’s application for reemployment following his active military duty in September 2013. On April 30, 2015, VTC pre-emptively filed its own suit against Costello in Utah state court claiming that he was inappropriately remunerated for his service to the company while he was on military leave; despite the fact that while he was on military he took personal leave in order to preside over company meetings. In addition to filing its federal complaint, the United States removed the employer’s action from state court to federal court.
“The brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces should never have to fear losing their job while they’re deployed overseas,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery. “That’s why the Department of Justice is committed to protecting the employment rights of service members and we will continue to devote time and resources to hold bad actors accountable.”
“Captain Costello served our nation honorably, and USERRA guarantees his right to re-employment upon his return from service,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “Through the department’s newly created Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, we will continue to build on our strong ties with federal partners and continue using every tool at our disposal to protect the rights of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces.”
“Members of our National Guard and Reserves make many sacrifices, including spending months or years away from their jobs and families,” said U.S. Attorney Christensen. “When our service members are deployed in the service of our country, they are entitled to retain their civilian employment and to the protections of federal law that prevent them from being subject to discrimination based upon their military obligations. We are filing suit today, on behalf of Captain Costello, a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, to ensure that he does not lose his rights while he was protecting ours.”
USERRA protects the rights of uniformed service members to retain their civilian employment following absences due to military service obligations, and proved that service members cannot be discriminated against because of their military obligations.
The lawsuit filed by the United States seeks damages equal to the amount of Costello’s lost wages and other benefits caused by VTC’s failure to comply with USERRA and a dismissal of VTC’s complaint. It also seeks an order requiring VTC to return Costello’s ownership and distribution shares and pay him all amounts that were distributed to shareholders between June 9, 2013, and the date of judgment. The lawsuit seeks an order requiring VTC to pay for all litigation fees related to the court action.
Costello initially filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, which investigated this matter and, after resolution failed, referred it to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section. This lawsuit followed as a collaborative initiative between the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah. The Department of Justice has given a high priority to the enforcement of service members’ rights under USERRA. Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department’s Web sites at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and http://www.servicemembers.gov, as well as on the Labor Department’s website at http://www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.