In a lawsuit filed today on behalf of U.S. Navy Reservist Porotesano Faapouli the Justice Department contends that Fresno County, Calif., violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by failing to promptly and properly reemploy Faapouli when he returned from active military duty with a service-related injury.
Faapouli was a senior juvenile correctional officer in Fresno County’s Probation Department when he was called to active duty with the U.S. Navy in June 2004. During a January 2005 training exercise, Faapouli suffered severe back, neck and shoulder injuries which required several surgeries and a long period of recuperation. Following his honorable discharge, he reported back to work for the county in September 2007.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California alleges that Fresno officials refused to meet with Faapouli to identify an appropriate reemployment position until five months after he first reported to work, made no effort to accommodate Faapouli in his pre-service position, failed to reemploy him at all until June 2008 and ultimately reemployed him in an entry-level position that was not in any way equivalent to his pre-service position.
"Protecting the employment rights of our returning service members is among the highest priorities of the Department of Justice," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department is committed fully to safeguarding the employment rights of our men and women in uniform, particularly those whose sacrifices include a disability incurred while in service to our nation."
The Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service investigated and attempted to resolve Faapouli’s USERRA complaint before referring it to the Justice Department.
USERRA, which was enacted by Congress in 1994 to minimize disruption in the lives of returning service members, recognizes the additional burden faced by returning veterans who were injured while serving our nation. Accordingly, USERRA requires employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate a returning service member’s injury or disability. If the returning service member cannot perform the pre-service position with or without an accommodation, USERRA mandates that the employer reemploy the veteran in a position that he or she can perform that is equivalent in seniority, status and pay to the pre-service position.
The Civil Rights Division has given the enforcement of service members’ rights under USERRA a high priority. This is the twelfth USERRA suit the Division has filed this year on behalf of service members. Please visit http://www.servicemembers.gov and http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp for more information.