Special counsel says first veterans case will set employment precedent

The first case brought brought to the Merit Systems Protection Board involving a federal agency accused of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act will set an important precedent for federal agencies and managers, according to Office of Special Counsel chief Scott Bloch.

The case, which is being brought by the special counsel against the U.S. Postal Service, was initiated in June and is set for an MSPB hearing in early January.

"That's a rather quick hearing date … we've really pushed that," Bloch said Thursday during an interview with Government Executive. "We feel it is an important case that underscores the importance of enforcing the nondiscrimination parts of USERRA."

The Postal Service declined to comment on the case. A spokesman said the agency typically does not release statements on pending litigation.

USERRA, passed in 1994, protects the employment rights of National Guard members and reservists who are called up to active duty. Under the law, demobilized reservists are guaranteed their old positions, any seniority they would have accrued and full benefits. The act also protects against a federal employee's reserve service from negatively affecting their career.

The Government Accountability Office released a report recently that criticized the amount of time OSC has taken to process USERRA cases. Bloch said, however, that he has made veteran's rights a priority since assuming control of the office in early 2004.

In the Postal Service case, the reservist alleged that his military duties were the motivating factor in his dismissal from a 16-week associate supervisory training program. The Labor Department's Veterans' Employment and Training Service-which is the first office to see veterans' employment cases-determined that the complaint had merit, but the agency could not reach a settlement with the Postal Service. The case was then turned over to OSC.

"We filed that only because the agency would not do the right thing with regard to the Postal Service employee," Bloch said during a July interview with a Defense Department television station.

The Postal Service employee, who has been an Army reservist since 1971, was not able to attend supervisory training on Saturdays because of his military duties. According to the complaint, the Postal Service expressed concern about the missed training time and that the employee would not be able to work on Saturdays after graduating from the course-as junior supervisors are expected to do. In April 2000, the employee was dismissed from the supervisory training program.

Bloch said it was necessary to provide a "disincentive" for other agencies to make similar decisions.

I think it's important to send a strong message to employers that we mean business," Bloch told Government Executive. "Not only are the going to suffer a lawsuit, they are going to be publicly held up and held accountable for this."

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