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U.S. Stepping Up Enforcement of Veterans' Reemployment Rights

An Army Reservist will collect back pay from an Everett, Wash. company accused of violating his reemployment rights.

The U.S Justice Department announced a settlement Monday with the battery retailer that fired the Iraq War veteran.

Military reservists and National Guardsmen have broad "reemployment rights" guaranteed by federal law. Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, employers have to welcome back returning soldiers to the jobs they would have had if they'd never deployed -- or something with equivalent seniority, status and pay.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Diaz says historically, his Seattle office took one case per year to court. But in the past three years, they've litigated eight cases.

"There definitely has been an influx of these types of cases in this area."

Diaz says the cause is probably a mix of things.

"A combination of folks returning from overseas and also an increased enforcement focus on these types of cases," says Diaz.

Officials with the Oregon and Washington National Guard say they've already seen the number of inquiries from veterans peak, and now drop off as fewer reservists have to leave jobs for deployments.

In the case from Everett, the battery retailer agreed to pay $37,500 to an Army reservist demoted and then fired following his deployment to Iraq.

Last month, the Jerome County Sheriff's Department paid a higher price - $150,000 - to settle a similar case.  The Justice Department filed suit on behalf of a deputy who is also an Idaho National Guard member.  The deputy alleged the Sheriff's Department failed to accommodate him during the time needed to recover from a knee injury sustained during military service and eventually fired him.

Mike Diaz says a common thread in the cases he sees is unfamiliarity with the legal obligations of employers to service members.

Lt. Colonel Matt Cooper of the Washington National Guard says in his experience, most cases are resolved without going to court. An office of the Defense Department called Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve helps service members and employers find workable solutions. "They try to solve problems as informally as possible," says Cooper.

On the Web:

Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve - US Department of Defense 
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act - US Department of Labor 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.