Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against West Virginia-Based Union for Violating Reemployment Rights of Army National Guardsman
The Justice Department announced today it has reached a settlement agreement with Laborers Local No. 1149, based in Wheeling, West Virginia, resolving claims that the union violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) when it failed to reinstate U.S. Army National Guardsman Elliot Ferrell as an apprentice laborer after his return from three months of basic training in 2014. As a result of that failure, Ferrell was ineligible to continue to receive job referrals through the union’s “hiring hall.”
USERRA gives service members the right to be reemployed in the civilian position that they would have attained if they had not been absent for military service, subject to certain conditions. Under federal regulations, when a union operates a hiring hall that refers employees to jobs with employers, both the union and the employers have reemployment obligations to returning service members.
According to the Justice Department’s complaint, which was filed with the settlement agreement, Ferrell was gainfully employed through a series of job referrals from the hiring hall operated by the union until his departure for military duty. The complaint alleges that Ferrell notified the union of his impending military duty and was told that his obligation to pay dues would be suspended for the duration of his duty. Then, while Ferrell was attending basic training, the union notified his aunt that it had terminated his apprenticeship because one month’s payment of dues was late. Though she immediately sent a check for the full amount owed, the union returned it and refused to rescind the termination. The union’s action disqualified Ferrell from further hiring-hall job referrals. Under the terms of the consent decree, which is still subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, the union must pay Ferrell compensation for lost income and further agrees that the hiring hall that it operates will comply with its obligations under USERRA, including its reemployment provisions.
“The civilian careers of the men and women in the National Guard should never be adversely affected because they volunteer to serve our country,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Baer. “Through the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, the Department of Justice will continue devoting times and resources to protect the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces from unjust actions and illegal burdens.”
“Men and women who defend our freedom should receive our highest level of gratitude, not face barriers of discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce USERRA to ensure that not only employers, but also unions operating hiring halls that refer employees to jobs, do not violate the rights of service members when they return to civilian life.”
“National Guard members, taking leave to serve our country, must be protected from overt as well as less readily apparent unlawful employment practices upon their return,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II of the Northern District of West Virginia. “Our office is committed to ensuring that all service members may return to their pre-service employment without demotion or penalty.”
Ferrell initially filed a complaint with the U.S. Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, which investigated this matter and then referred it to the Justice Department after attempts at resolution failed.
The Civil Rights Division has given a high priority to the enforcement of service members’ rights under USERRA