On Monday, the Department of Justice reached a settlement to resolve allegations that a city violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA) by failing to promote a navy reservist and firefighter, and by retaliating against him after he invoked his rights. The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts violated Jeffrey Rawson, a firefighter for the city, and his rights by passing him over for promotion to lieutenant in the Pittsfield Fire Department because of his military obligations with the Navy Reserves. Rawson joined the Pittsfield Fire Department in 1990. In 2002, Rawson began his service with the Navy Reserve, punctually reporting for training and duty when ordered.
Seven years later, in 2009, Rawson took a promotional exam to become lieutenant of the Fire Department. Based on the results of the exam, Rawson was ranked second on the promotional list. However, in July 2010 the city informed Rawson that he was being skipped for promotion. A firefighter who ranked lower on the promotional list instead was promoted to lieutenant in September of that year.
Upon learning this, Rawson filed a USERRA complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The city retaliated by refusing to reinstate him to the list of firefighters eligible to serve as an acting lieutenant.
Under the Justice Department’s settlement, the Pittsfield Fire Department will promote Rawson to lieutenant retroactive to September 2010 and will provide him with over $22,000 in back pay, pension contributions and interest. Further, the city must provide USERRA training to city department heads and supervisors on the rights and obligations of those who serve our country.
While this may seem like a small victory when considered on a national scale, it should not be discounted. One of the most important results of the settlement is the fact that the city employers and supervisors will receive training on USERRA. The Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS), a Department of Labor program, conducts an aggressive public outreach campaign to educate service members and employers on USERRA. In a report to Congress in 2010, VETS briefed 727,000 individuals on USERRA since September 11, 2001. Further, in FY 2010, VETS presented USERRA information to more than 93,000 people. This figure, however, does not distinguish between service members and employers.
Having clearly not received the training before, the Pittsfield city department heads and supervisors raise the question: Do employers receive any formal training on USERRA? We are fully aware that service members receive briefings on USERRA; however, given the increase in USERRA violations it is not clear whether or not employers receive briefings. As in any supervisor-supervisee relationship, it should be both parties responsibility to inform and enforce policies, such as USERRA; it should not lie solely on the service member.
What are the practices at your place of work? Do supervisors receive training on USERRA?