Supervisor’s take-home: You now have less flexibility to deny a job-related request made by a returning servicemember. A recently issued U.S. Supreme Court ruling will make it harder for certain employers to defend themselves against lawsuits filed by former and current members of the military.
What happened: A U.S. Army reservist who was also employed as a state trooper was deployed to Iraq. While there, he was exposed to toxic burn pits. He was later diagnosed with constrictive bronchitis.
What people did: When the man returned to the U.S., he realized that his condition prevented him from resuming his job as a state trooper, so he asked to be reassigned to a more suitable position. His request was denied.
Legal challenge: The U.S. Army reservist sued under the Uninformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), contending that the law required the state to transfer him to a different job.
The state argued that it was protected against the lawsuit by sovereign immunity.
Result: The employer lost. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state agency couldn’t defeat the lawsuit by claiming sovereign immunity. When it comes to national defense, states effectively gave away their sovereign immunity when they joined the union. The court said the U.S. Congress granted the federal government total control in matters of national defense, and USERRA was intended to help defend the country. As a result, the state needed to comply with USERRA and transfer the returning servicemember to a more suitable job.
The skinny: This ruling by the nation’s top court expands the scope of USERRA to more employers. Governments and their agencies can no longer claim sovereign immunity to shield themselves from servicemember lawsuits.
Cite: Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 20-603, 6/29/22.
(From the July 29, 2022, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)