The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the Richmond County (GA) Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) that resolves allegations that the RCSO violated the employment rights of Private First Class (PFC) Auben Kendall under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
“This country has long depended on the sacrifices made by its all-volunteer armed forces, and the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that servicemembers who make the tremendous sacrifice to leave their civilian careers to serve this country can do so without suffering discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Placing military servicemembers in a leave status when they are away from their jobs because of their military service and providing them with the same benefits accorded to other employees on similar leaves is not just a good business practice, it is required by law.”
PFC Kendall began working for the RCSO as a jailer in 2016, and was promoted to a deputy sheriff position in 2017 after attending state mandated training. In approximately May 2018, PFC Kendall informed the RCSO that he had enlisted in the Army and would be departing in several months to perform military service. He expressed his desire to return to work at the RCSO after his service. After notifying the RCSO of his enlistment, the employer demanded reimbursement of the costs of Kendall’s salary that he earned while attending mandatory training. The RCSO later filed suit against Kendall in a Georgia State Court for breach of contract, seeking reimbursement for the $7,437.56 in salary that it claimed Kendall owed. Prior to settling Kendall’s USERRA claims, the RCSO dismissed its state court lawsuit.
Under the terms of the agreement, the RCSO has agreed to place PFC Kendall in military leave status retroactive to the date of his entry on active duty, to process any future request for reemployment from PFC Kendall consistent with USERRA’s requirements, and to not seek to recover any training-related funds from PFC Kendall. The RCSO also agreed that it will not seek reimbursement for any training-related expenditures from any servicemember who leaves employment with the RCSO for military service. As part of the settlement agreement, the RCSO will devise and implement a USERRA policy, distribute its USERRA policy to all of its employees, and train its supervisory and human resources staff members on its USERRA policy.
USERRA safeguards the rights of uniformed servicemembers, including those who enlisted in uniformed service after beginning their employment, to be free from discrimination based on their service obligation. USERRA also requires that employers treat employees who are absent from their employment by reason of military service as though they are on leave and provide them with the same rights and benefits as employees who are on comparable leaves.
The Justice Department gives high priority to the enforcement of servicemembers rights under USERRA. Attorneys assigned to the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division represented the United States in this matter. Additional information about USERRA can be found at the Justice Department’s websites at https://www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section and https://www.justice.gov/servicemembers, as well as on the Department of Labor’s website at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/userra.