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Monday, April 17, 2017

Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against South Dakota Business on Behalf of Air National Guard Member

The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement with BioFusion Health Products Inc., based in Rapid City, South Dakota.  The settlement resolves claims that BioFusion violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) when it failed to reemploy South Dakota Air National Staff Sgt. Amber Ishmael following an extended military leave and when it eventually terminated her employment.  At the time of her termination, Staff Sgt. Ishmael was a Senior Airman with the Air National Guard, where she has served honorably since 2010.

According to the complaint that the department filed in the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Staff Sgt. Ishmael’s military service was a motivating factor in BioFusion’s decisions to deny her request for reemployment and to terminate her employment.  Staff Sgt. Ishmael was terminated following her deployment to attend Airmen Leadership School, a professional military education training associated with her military service.  Under the terms of the settlement agreement, BioFusion has agreed to pay $3,000 in back pay to Staff Sgt. Ishmael.  USERRA safeguards the rights of uniformed servicemembers to return to their civilian employment following absences due to military service obligations and protects servicemembers from discrimination on the basis of their military obligations.

“The United States has a solemn obligation to ensure that those selfless Americans who serve in the nation’s Armed Forces enjoy every opportunity to advance their civilian careers,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio.  “The Department of Justice will be unwavering in protecting the rights of our nation’s service members and we will continue to hold accountable employers who violate those rights.”

“As a member of the Air National Guard, Staff Sgt. Ishmael was called upon to leave her civilian employment and serve our nation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our role at the Department of Justice is to protect the rights of the men and women who defend our freedom and safeguard our way of life, and this settlement demonstrates our robust and continuing commitment to those efforts.”

“Members of our Air National Guard must frequently sacrifice time away from their families and civilian jobs in service to our country,” said U.S. Attorney Randolph J. Seiler of the District of South Dakota. “When military obligations require servicemembers to be absent from their jobs, their employment rights must be protected. The Civil Rights Section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota is committed to protecting those rights. This settlement agreement demonstrates that when employers disregard their obligations under USERRA, our office will hold them accountable for their violations.”

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 (“VETS”).  After resolution failed, VETS referred the complaint to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  This lawsuit was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Ramsdell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of South Dakota, with the assistance of the Civil Rights Division, both of whom work collaboratively with DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of servicemembers.

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 https://www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section and https://www.justice.gov/crt-military, as well as on the Department of Labor’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Servicemembers Initiative
Press Release Number: 
17-411
Updated April 18, 2017