SCOTUS to hear USERRA discrimination case

With so many reserve service members returning home to a less-than-robust economy (I’m being generous), it shouldn’t be a surprise to find the number of USERRA violations has skyrocketed, according to

Last week, we reported on a Sixth Circuit case in which one such service member was fired because IBM refused to reintegrate him because he had fallen behind the technology while serving in Afghanistan. The Sixth Circuit upheld the firing in that case, in part because of procedural mistakes by the plaintiff, and in part because the veteran accepted a severance buyout.

Other service members have not been so lucky. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted cert to hear a case that veteran’s groups hope will curb the number of discrimination claims filed with the the Department of Defense’s Employer Services for Guard and Reserves unit.

In Staub v Proctor Hospital, Vincent Staub returned from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he trained Army personnel on how to establish a radiology unit in a combat environment.

Before he was recalled, his supervisor had systematically disregarded his military obligations by scheduling him to work on weekends, knowing he needed one weekend a month for his reserve duty. She forced Staub to use his vacation days and posted bulletins asking his co-workers to volunteer to cover his shifts.

The supervisor told him and others his reserve duty was “bull[BLEEP]” and told him to “get the [BLEEP] out” of her office. She even went as far as to call the administrator of his military unit and asked for Staub to be excused. When she was told the weekend drilling was mandatory, she called the administrator an “[BLEEP]hole” and hung up on him.

Another supervisor referred to his military drill weekends as “Army Reserve bull[BLEEP]” and “a bunch of smoking and joking and a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Despite this, Staub had excellent performance reviews as late as four months before he was fired.

He was later fired for two incidents: one, in which he broke a rule that both he and another co-worker testified did not exist at the time he allegedly broke it, and two, for the heinous act of phoning his supervisor to say he was going to lunch with the same co-worker and not having that voicemail received before another supervisor decided to fire him. The other co-worker was not disciplined.

He sued the hospital for discriminating against his veteran/reserve status in violation of USERRA. A jury found the employer’s actions were largely motivated by Staub’s veteran/reserve status. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict, saying that the human resources vice president that delivered the news of his firing was not under the “singular influence” of the allegedly biased supervisors.

SCOTUS will hear the arguments in December.

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