U.S. Attorney’s Office Settles Lawsuit Against Ironworkers District Council of New England Pension Fund to Enforce Rights of U.S. Navy Reservist
BOSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office reached a settlement with the Ironworkers District Council of New England Pension and Annuity Funds (Funds) and their trustees, resolving claims that they violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) when they refused to give Thomas Shea, a U.S. Navy Reserve Member, credit toward his pension and annuity funds while he served on active duty military service.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that servicemembers who make great sacrifices to protect our country are not disadvantaged because of their military service,” said United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz. “We will continue our vigorous enforcement of USERRA and hold employers who violate those protections accountable.”
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Shea received a lump sum payment of $180,000 for back pension and annuity payments and monthly pension payments of $2,600.
The settlement agreement resolves the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of Shea in October 2013 which alleged that the Funds and their Trustees violated USERRA when they refused to credit Shea with service time for his multiple tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Kuwait, because he did not satisfy the Ironworker Pension Plan’s reemployment requirements, which were more burdensome than those under USERRA.
USERRA requires that servicemembers who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the military be treated as not having incurred a break in service with regard to their pension plans and other employment benefits. USERRA further provides that each period served by a servicemember shall, upon reemployment, be deemed to constitute service with the employer maintaining the plan for the purpose of determining the non-forfeitability of the person’s accrued benefits and the accrual of benefits under the plan.
In February 2016, the Court found that the Ironworkers’ Pension Plan violated USERRA by imposing additional requirements beyond what is required under USERRA on servicemembers seeking pension credit for military service. Under the Ironworker’s Pension Plan, returning servicemembers could not receive credit for their military service unless they (1) worked at least 300 hours in the one-year period following discharge from the military; and (2) accrued 2.5 pension credits, which is equal to 3,000 hours, in the subsequent five-year period following release from active duty.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer A. Serafyn, Chief of Ortiz’s Civil Rights Unit, and Special Litigation Counsel Andrew Braniff and Trial Attorney Nadia Said of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section, handled the case.
The protection of servicemembers’ rights is a priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Additional information about USERRA can be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp, www.servicemembers.gov and www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.
The Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was established in 2015 with the mission of enhancing federal civil rights enforcement. For more information on the Office’s civil rights efforts, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-ma/civil-rights.