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The Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz announced today the filing of a complaint alleging that the Iron Workers District Council of New England Pension Fund (the Pension Fund) and the Trustees of the Iron Workers District Council of New England Pension Fund (the Trustees) willfully violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by failing to credit U.S. Navy Reserve Member Thomas Shea, a member of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, Local 7 (the Union), with service time while he was serving in the armed forces in Afghanistan. The suit was filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
USERRA requires that service members who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the military be treated as not having incurred a break in service with regard to their pension plans. USERRA further provides that each period served by a person in the uniformed services shall upon reemployment be deemed to constitute service with the employer(s) maintaining the plan for the purpose of determining the nonforfeitabilty of the person's accrued benefits and for the purpose of determining the accrual of benefits under the plan.
The complaint alleges that the Pension Fund and the trustees violated USERRA by refusing to grant Shea pension credits that he earned while on military duty unless and until he worked at least 300 hours in the one year period following his discharge from the military and accrued 2.5 pension credits, which is equal to 3,000 hours, in the subsequent five year period following his release from active duty. Both of these requirements exceed those placed on members of the Pension Fund who do not take military leave and therefore violate USERRA. The complaint also seeks back payment of annuity contributions that were not made while Shea was on active duty.
“Congress enacted USERRA to protect our men and women in uniform from experiencing exactly this kind of injustice,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing federal laws that protect the employment rights of our service members.”
“Reservists who are called to active duty sacrifice time away from their jobs to serve their country,” said Ortiz. “USERRA ensures that they are not discriminated against after they have returned from service and that their employment rights are protected. We are committed to vigorously enforcing USERRA’s protections.”
"It is important for all employers and their organizations to realize that the Labor Department is here to protect the employment and reemployment rights of American service members under USERRA," said Assistant Secretary Keith Kelly of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service. "We owe these brave Americans every protection when they return from their military obligations."
The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Veterans’ Employment and Training Service investigated Shea’s allegations with the assistance of the DOL’s Office of Regional Solicitor. This case is being handled jointly by the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department website: www.servicemembers.gov and www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp, as well as on the Labor Department’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.