Justice Department Sues Puerto Rico Business for Violating Employment Rights of United States Army Reservist
The Justice Department filed a complaint today alleging that Farmacia Lugo, Inc. (Farmacia Lugo), a business based in Puerto Rico, violated the employment rights of U.S. Army Reservist Anna J. Santiago under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). Santiago has served her country as a member of the Army Reserves since 2012. She currently holds the rank of Private 1st Class and serves as a culinary specialist.
According to the complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, Santiago’s military service was a motivating factor in Farmacia Lugo’s decision to terminate her employment. The Department claims that, in 2014 and 2015, Santiago served multiple periods of military duty which caused her to be absent from her job as a pharmacy technician. The complant alleges that during and after Santiago’s periods of military service, the owner of Farmacia Lugo began making negative statements about Santiago and her military service obligations. This pattern of disparagement of Santiago’s military service by her employer was ongoing and continued through November 2015 after she returned from military training. The complaint further alleges that, on November 11, 2015, the owner of Farmacia Lugo terminated Santiago in front of other employees and customers. The complaint alleges that during the termination, the employer told PFC Santiago that it was appropriate that it occurred on Veterans Day because her military service was the cause of her termination.
“The men and women who bravely wear our nation’s uniform need to know that they will be protected from unjust terminations when they return from periods of military service,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Thomas Wheeler. “The Department of Justice is committed to aggressively enforcing USERRA to protect our brave service members, whose rights do not end with their first day back on the job.”
“USERRA guarantees the rights of those who serve our nation with honor and distinction to return to civilian employment upon returning from military service,” said Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “This lawsuit demonstrates our steadfast commitment to leverage every resource and tool at the federal government’s disposal to protect the rights of the men and women who defend our freedom and safeguard our way of life.”
USERRA protects the rights of uniformed servicemembers to retain their civilian employment following absences due to military service obligations, and provides that servicemembers shall not be discriminated against because of their military obligations.
The lawsuit seeks damages equal to the amount of Santiago’s lost wages and benefits caused by Farmacia Lugo’s failure to comply with USERRA, as well as liquidated damages (in an amount equal to lost wages) for what the Department alleges is Famacial Lugo’s reckless disregard for USERRA. It also seeks orders requiring Farmacia Lugo’s compliance with all provisions of USERRA and requiring Farmacia Lugo to pay all related litigation fees.
This case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), pursuant to an investigation by the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The case is being jointly handled by the the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and the Employment Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which works collaboratively with the DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of Army Reserves servicemembers upon their return to civilian life.
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.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.