Justice Department Secures Relief Against American Airlines for Air Force Reserve Veteran
The Justice Department announced today that it had resolved a claim that American Airlines (American) violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by underfunding the 401(k) retirement account of Thomas P. Harwood III, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, after he returned to work from various military obligations. Mr. Harwood is a Major General (O-8) (Ret.) who joined the U.S. Air Force in 1981, served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve from 1991 until his retirement in 2016, and has worked for American Airlines as a commercial pilot since 1992.
“Federal law requires employers to promptly reemploy servicemembers after their military service obligations, and also requires them to promptly restore their retirement benefits as if they had no break in employment,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. “Employers who violate the civil rights of those who serve in the military will be held accountable. This settlement demonstrates the Justice Department’s ongoing commitment to protecting the rights of servicemembers who sacrifice to serve our country.”
Following the conclusion of Maj. Gen. Harwood’s military service obligations in 2016, including one that had begun in 2013, American both underfunded the make-up contributions it owed to his 401(k) account upon his return and deposited them well after the 90-day limit provided by federal regulations. Under the terms of the settlement, American has agreed to compensate Harwood $15,671 in monetary damages and provide USERRA training to all employees in its 401(k) department.
Congress enacted USERRA to encourage non-career service in the military by reducing employment disadvantages; to minimize the disruption to the lives of persons performing military service, their employers, and others, by providing for the prompt reemployment of such persons upon the completion of their service; and to prohibit discrimination and retaliation against servicemembers if they pursue a claim under USERRA.
The Department of Labor (DOL) referred this matter to the department following an investigation by its Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The Employment Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division handled the case and continues to work collaboratively with the DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of military members. The Justice Department gives high priority to the enforcement of servicemembers’ rights under USERRA. Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department’s websites at www.justice.gov/crt-military/employment-rights-userra and www.justice.gov/servicemembers, as well as on the Department of Labor’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra.