Justice Department Settles Lawsuit with Washington State Company to Enforce Employment Rights of U.S. Air Force Reservist
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with James J. Williams Bulk Service Transport Inc. (JJW), its parent company Trans-System Inc. and System TWT Transportation Inc. alleging that the companies violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) by failing to promptly and properly reemploy U.S. Air Force reservist Dave Axtell in April 2009 when he returned from military service in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The complaint also alleged that the defendants unlawfully terminated Axtell’s employment without cause shortly after he was reemployed. If approved by the court, the settlement would resolve the allegations that the defendants violated the reemployment rights of Axtell.
Subject to certain conditions, USERRA requires employers to promptly reemploy returning service members in the positions they would have held had their employment not been interrupted by military service, or in a position of like seniority, status and pay. In addition, any individual with Axtell’s length of absence for military service who is reemployed cannot be terminated, except for just cause, within one year after the date of reemployment.
According to the department’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma, the defendant companies violated USERRA by not promptly or properly reemploying Axtell in his previous pre-service position as a driver supervisor or in a position with comparable seniority, status and pay. The defendants waited three months to reemploy Axtell, and thereafter employed him in an unsalaried, lower status position requiring longer hours. Ultimately, according to the complaint, defendants terminated Axtell’s employment without cause, also in violation of USERRA.
Under the terms of the settlement, embodied in a consent decree that has been submitted for approval to the federal district court in Tacoma, the defendants must pay Axtell $60,000 to compensate him for lost wages and benefits. Among other things, the settlement also requires the defendants to provide training to JJW’s high level officials and human resources staff on the USERRA rights and obligations of employers and covered employees.
“The men and women who bravely serve our nation in the armed forces should not have to sacrifice their jobs to do so. Employers have a legal obligation to ensure returning service members get their jobs back when they return from military duty as required by law,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the rights of those who, through their courage and sacrifice, secure the rights of all Americans.”
“The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to enforcing the laws that protect the rights of those brave men and women who serve our country proudly,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny A. Durkan said today. “Our soldiers must be able to serve with the confidence that they will get their jobs back when they return to the workforce and will not be discharged without just cause.”
The case was litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Diaz in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, in collaboration with Jodi Danis, Special Counsel, and Kristofor Hammond, Senior Trial Attorney, in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. The case stems from a referral from the U.S. Labor Department following an investigation by its Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices have 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.justice.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.