Department of Justice Settles Employment Discrimination Claim on Behalf of U.S. Army Reservist
The United States Department of Justice has resolved a claim that the Duval County Sheriff’s Department violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by terminating U.S. Army Reservist Jonathan J. Melendez (Melendez) on two occasions and retaliating against him after he pursed his claims in violation of USERRA, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez and Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas represents U.S. Army Specialist Jonathan J. Melendez in this matter and the parties have reached a settlement resolving all of his claims.
“The legal rights of members of our armed forces, who sacrifice their lives every day defending our nation and its freedoms, must be respected,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore. “This settlement sends a strong message that the Department of Justice is steadfast in its efforts to protect the rights of our servicemembers, their families, and all veterans of the United States.”
“Members of our armed service’s reserve forces make many sacrifices, including spending months or years away from their jobs and families,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez. “When they are deployed in the service of our country, their employment rights must be protected. They are entitled to retain their civilian employment and to the protections of federal law that prevent them from being subject to discrimination based upon their military obligations. My office and the Department of Justice are committed to ensuring that individuals do not lose their rights while they are protecting ours.”
Specialist Melendez was hired as a Deputy Sheriff on March 14, 2014, by the Duval County Sheriff’s Department. On October 8, 2015, Melendez enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves. Martinez alleged that Duval County discriminated against him in violation of USERRA on four occasions. These occasions include Melendez’s termination from the Sheriff’s Department on January 1, 2016 while he was on leave for active military duty, his belated rehire upon his return from military duty in April 2016, and his termination again in October 2016 after he continued to pursue a USERRA lost wages claim against his former employer.
Congress enacted USERRA for three stated purposes: (1) to encourage non-career service in the uniformed services by reducing employment disadvantages; (2) to minimize the disruption to the lives of persons performing military service, their employers, and others by providing for the prompt reemployment of such persons upon their completion of such service; and (3) to prohibit discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed services or if they pursue a claim under USERRA.
Under the terms of the settlement, Duval County has agreed to compensate Melendez for his lost wages and benefits, and pay him liquidated damages.
This case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), pursuant to an investigation by the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and the Employment Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division handled this case and continue to work with the DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of all military service members.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Edward Wyatt and Paralegal Specialist Raymond Babauta of the SDTX are handling the investigation along with Assistant Director Andrew Braniff of the Service Members and Veterans Initiative, and Alicia Johnson, Employment Litigation Section, Civil Rights Division, of the U.S. Department of Justice.