- A North Carolina county violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) when it eliminated an Army reservist's job while he was on active duty, according to lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) (Coffer v. Warren County Board of Education, No. 19-cv-00143 (E.D.N.C. April 10, 2019)).
- Dwayne Coffer began working for Warren County in 2006 and spent his time in administrative education jobs, including assistant principal and dean of students positions. In 2017, he left for military duty and while he was away, the county allegedly informed him that it was eliminating his position but that he would be offered re-employment as a physical education teacher when he returned, despite other administrative openings.
- Along with DOJ, Coffer filed suit, alleging that the physical education position was not equivalent to his administrator position, as required by USERRA. He asked to be reinstated and for lost wages and other benefits.
USERRA protects those who are absent from their jobs because of service in the armed forces. If certain circumstances are met, it requires employers to restore an employee to the job and benefits he or she would have attained if they had not been absent due to military service or, in some cases, a comparable job, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
And while the law sets out service requirements for worker coverage, even those who lack guaranteed shifts can be covered, the 8th Circuit held recently. In Mace v. Corey Willis, Kickbox Dakota LLC., the court found that USERRA's implementing regulations make it clear that the law applies to part-time, temporary, probationary and seasonal employees. However, an exception is made if the job is for a "brief, nonrecurrent period and there is no reasonable expectation that the employment would have continued indefinitely or for a significant period," the Mace court said.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, DOJ offered employers a warning, noting that it "gives high priority to the enforcement of servicemembers' rights under USERRA." Notably, the lawsuit is Coffer's second DOJ-assisted USERRA complaint filed against Warren County: In a 2013 consent agreement, the employer agreed to reinstate him and restore his pay and benefits.