Court Rules Against Navy Reservist in USERRA Case
By Debbie Gregory.
A high-level federal court delivered a blow to the rights of military reservists.
Kevin Ziober was a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve in 2012 when he received deployment orders to Afghanistan. After co-workers gathered to give Ziober a proper sendoff, he was summoned to the human resources office.
And then he was fired.
Ziober believed the dismissal was the direct result of the inconvenience his military service caused his employer. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) exists to protect military reservists against such discrimination.
Ziober lost his case before the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, one step below the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that his pre-employment arbitration agreement prohibited him from suing his former employer.
Six months into Ziober’s tenure at real estate management firm BLB Resources, he stated that the company asked him and other employees to sign an arbitration agreement in order to remain employed. The agreement was presented to them on a take it or leave it basis. Ziober, like other employees who needed their jobs to support themselves and their families, felt that he had to sign it.
BLB Resources disputed Ziober’s version of the events, saying that his firing became necessary when the federal contract to which he was assigned was not renewed.
Protecting service members from employment discrimination is directly linked to military readiness and the Defense Department’s ability to recruit and retain more than 800,000 part-time troops every year.
Although the court ruled against Ziober, the judge appeared to urge Congress to consider changing or strengthening USERRA.
In 1994, when Congress enacted USERRA, it stated explicitly that veterans and service members cannot waive any of their rights under USERRA, that they have a right to enforce their rights in federal court, and that they cannot be required to arbitrate their USERRA claims.
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