Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, to Enforce the Employment Rights of a Marine Corps Reservist
The Department of Justice today announced a settlement which is subject to District Court approval with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, resolving claims that the city violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) when it failed to re-employ U.S. Marine Corps Reservist Sean Keane at the level he should have been in following his multiple military deployments, including tours of duty to Afghanistan.
Keane, a firefighter for the city of Somerville since 1989, was called to active duty military service from April 2, 2004, to Sept. 25, 2013. Following his return from service, Keane took a lieutenant’s make-up promotional exam to replace the regular administration of the examination that he missed because of his military service. Keane received the highest score on the test, which placed him at the top of the promotional list, ahead of two firefighters who had already been promoted in July 2013. When Keane was eventually promoted in October 2014, he requested that his promotion be effective as of July 2013, the date he would have been promoted had he not been away on military service. He was denied the July 2013 promotion date and, as a result, was deemed ineligible to take a make-up exam for a captain’s position. Subject to certain limitations, USERRA requires that service members who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the military be reemployed by their civilian employers in the positions that they would have held if their employment had not been interrupted by military service. Under circumstances like those here, federal law also requires that a servicemember be reemployed in a position of comparable seniority, pay and status so that no opportunities for advancement or promotion are adversely affected by military service.
“The great sacrifice of Americans who serve in our Marine Corps should never be a detriment to their civilian careers,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces and we will continue to hold employers who violate their rights accountable.”
“As a service member in Afghanistan, Sean Keane has served his country with admirable distinction, honor and integrity,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Courageous men and women like Lieutenant Keane, who answer America’s call to defend our freedom, deserve to reclaim their civilian jobs without undue impediment when they return home. We commend the state and local officials who worked cooperatively to resolve this claim under USERRA.”
“Reservists who are called into active duty to serve their country make many sacrifices including time away from their jobs,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of the District of Massachusetts. “In applying USERRA’s protections, we seek to restore servicemembers to the promotions and pay they have rightfully earned. We are committed to ensuring that those who serve our country are not disadvantaged because of their military service, and are encouraged by the City’s prompt action in fulfilling its legal obligations with respect to Mr. Keane.”
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the city agreed to pay more than $15,000 as back pay. The agreement also provides that Keane will be permitted to make-up a missed examination for promotion to captain. Based on his score, Keane will be as eligible for a promotion as others who took the examination on its regular schedule.
This case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), following an investigation by the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Massachusetts, who work collaboratively with the DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of Reserve and National Guard servicemembers upon their return to civilian life.
The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Driscoll and Jennifer Serafyn of the District of Massachusetts, along with Special Litigation Counsel Andrew Braniff and Trial Attorneys Jeremy Monteiro and Taryn Null of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division 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 websites at www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov, as well as on the Labor Department’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.