The United States brought a case against the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (“ADMH”) claiming it violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) when it failed to rehire longtime employee, Roy Hamilton, after his deployment to Iraq with the Alabama National Guard.
District court found ADMH violated USERRA by not immediately rehiring Hamilton upon his return from Iraq. Court ordered payment of more than $25,000 in lost wages and benefits.
1. Did the district court err in finding that ADMH violated USERRA?
2. Did district court err in requiring ADMH to pay money damages to Hamilton?
No, the district court did not err in either of its findings.
1. USERRA requires employers to promptly reemploy any person who is absent from employment “by reason of service in the uniformed services.” The requirement applies if 1) the employee gives proper notice to the employer when leaving; 2) absence is for less than 5 years; and 3) employee timely applies for reemployment upon his return.
District court clearly found Hamilton’s absence was necessitated by military service. ADMH officials told Hamilton they would continue looking for other opportunities for him after he declined a transfer to a different facility following the closure of the where he was working before his deployment. Hamilton’s decision to decline a transfer to another facility did not constitute a resignation.
2. Furthermore, there is no error in awarding damages. The policy of USERRA is intended to encourage service in the armed forces. The employer has the duty under USERRA to offer the employee a position and there is no requirement that the employee must prove they would have accepted the position had it been offered.
By: Judith Massis-Sanchez