Air Force Reservist Wins Million Dollar Award in USERRA Case

Those who serve in the military have a right not to be disadvantaged in their employment because they leave to serve our country.  Last Thursday, a federal district court judge sent this message loud and clear.

Michael Serricchio, an Air Force reservist, was awarded over $1 million dollars because his employer violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act. 

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ("USERRA") is a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the military are:

  1. not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service;
  2. promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and
  3. not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service.

USERRA covers every employer in the United States no matter how small.

In January of 2009, a Congressional bill called the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act of 2009 ("SAJA") was introduced by Senator Casey and Senator Kennedy  for the purpose of improving some of the deficiencies in USERRA  (the original bill was co-sponsored by then Senator Obama in 2008).  A statement from Senator Casey's office illuminated some of the issues:

According to the Department of Defense’s Status of Forces study released in November 2007, among post-9/11 returning Reservists and National Guard, nearly 11,000 were denied prompt reemployment and more than 20,000 lost seniority and thus pay and other benefits.  The SAJA would eliminate those problems by closing loopholes to ensure that returning reservists keep their jobs and employment benefits as required under current law

The legislation specifically:

  • overrules the 5th Circuit case of  Garrett v. Circuit City Stores  to ban mandatory arbitration of disputes under USERRA
  • requires attorneys' fee awards to prevailing employees
  • enhances damages provisions
  • waives sovereign immunity and provides for suits against the state.

The award in the Serricchio case is  believed to be the largest ever received under USERRA.

The facts of the case are set out in stories reported in the New York Times.and Hartford Courant . In sum, Michael Serricchio was a financial adviser for Prudential Securities in Stamford, Connecticut. He was called to duty after September 11, 2001 and served two years in active service. 

Continue Reading...