Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Warren County, North Carolina, Board of Education to Enforce The USERRA Rights of a United States Army Reservist
RALEIGH – The Department of Justice announced that it filed a complaint today in federal court against the Warren County, North Carolina, Board of Education (Warren County), to protect rights guaranteed to an Army Reservist, Command Sergeant Major Dwayne Coffer (CSM Coffer), by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
CSM Coffer’s job as Dean of Students at Warren County Middle School was eliminated while he was on active duty. According to the lawsuit, Warren County violated USERRA by demoting him to Physical Education Teacher at Northside Elementary School instead of reemploying him in job that is comparable to Dean of Students.
“The freedoms we enjoy as Americans are dependent on the selfless duties performed by members of our Armed Forces,” said Dreiband. “When our Country calls servicemembers to duty, its laws, enforced by the Department of Justice, protect their civilian jobs.”
Higdon explained, “The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects the brave men and women who serve our Country, and the Department of Justice is committed to enforcing USERRA when it is violated. Members of the Army Reserve, like Sergeant Major Dwayne Coffer, are often called away from their civilian jobs in order to provide the security upon which our nation depends. They should not have to fear losing their jobs when they answer that call.”
The Complaint seeks to reinstate CSM Coffer into a proper reemployment position and recover CSM Coffer’s lost wages and other benefits and other remedies. In 2012, the United States Department of Justice sued Warren County when it failed to renew the employment contract of CSM Coffer following a different period of military service.
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 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 (DOL) website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra and and www.justice.gov/servicemembers as well as on the Department of Labor's (DOL) website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra.
This case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor, at CMS Coffer’s request, after an investigation by the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The case is being handled by Deborah Birnbaum in the Employment Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike James in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.