Cicilline Introduces Bipartisan Justice for Servicemembers Act

Jun 10, 2016 Issues: Veterans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Justice for Servicemembers Act – legislation that strengthens the rights of servicemen and women, and ensures they can sue if an employer eliminates their job because they are serving on active duty. The Justice for Servicemembers Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Joe Wilson (R-SC), Walter Jones (R-NC), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) in the House of Representatives, and U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate.


“All of us are fortunate to live in a free and safe society thanks to the incredible service and enormous sacrifices of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces,” said Congressman Cicilline. “No person who has served our country in uniform should ever struggle because it was more profitable for an employer to fire them while they were on active duty halfway around the world. The bipartisan Justice for Servicemembers Act will ensure that every member of the Armed Forces has the right to go to court and not to be forced into mandatory arbitration. I’m grateful that members of both parties are supporting this commonsense proposal to do right by our veterans.”


“After fighting for our freedom overseas, no service member or veteran should have to fight for their job when they come home,” said Senator Blumenthal. “And they certainly shouldn’t be denied their right to their day in court if their federal rights are violated. The right to seek remedies through the court system for being unjustly fired or exploited is absolutely fundamental. It is unconscionable that as a result of a misinterpretation in the law, our nation’s service members and veterans are excluded from this basic protection.”


Under the Uniformed Services Employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), veterans and servicemembers are protected from discrimination based on their military service and given the right to return to their civilian jobs once their service ends. In recent years, however, Federal courts have allowed employers to require servicemembers and veterans to sign mandatory arbitration agreements that prohibit them from going to court to resolve an employment dispute. Under mandatory arbitration agreements, companies can choose the arbiter and venue for a hearing while denying an employee any right to appeal.


“I applaud Representatives Cicilline, Wilson, Jones, Walorski, Cartwright, and Gabbard for introducing this vitally important bipartisan legislation to restore the longstanding reemployment rights of veterans who have honorably served in the Armed Forces.  I am hopeful that bipartisan leaders in Congress will come together to pass this legislation in 2016,” said Lieutenant Kevin Ziober, a Navy reservist who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014.  The day before that deployment began, Ziober’s employer, BLB Resources, Inc., a federal contractor, wrongfully terminated Ziober and later prevented Ziober from enforcing his rights by invoking an arbitration agreement that Ziober was forced to sign as a condition of employment.” 


“The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) commends Congressman Cicilline on the introduction of this critically important amendment to restore the rights of servicemembers and veterans under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA),” said Terisa E. Chaw, executive director of the National Employment Lawyers Association. “Since the 1950s, federal law has provided that servicemembers and veterans cannot waive their right to enforce their employment and reemployment rights. With this amendment Congress will restore longstanding protections that have been undermined by recent court decisions. Given the Armed Forces’ heavy reliance on Guard and Reserve members to staff our military’s operations, it is essential for servicemembers and veterans to be assured that they can serve in the military and return to their jobs, and that any USERRA violation can be enforced in a court of law.”


Two-thirds of American companies use some kind of mandatory arbitration agreement. The Justice for Servicemembers Act will render null and void any mandatory arbitration agreement between an employer and a current or former member of the Armed Forces, consistent with the Congressional intent behind USERRA. The bipartisan legislation ensures that servicemembers and veterans will be able to go to court to enforce their right to return to a civilian job, rather than being forced into mandatory arbitration.  It will strengthen and preserve existing protections and promote greater access to justice for those who have honorably served our country.


“Our servicemembers should not have to worry about losing their job at home while they put their lives on the line for our country.  Yet too many employers have tried to skirt around the law by requiring workers to sign away their rights to employment protection with an arbitration agreement. The Justice for Servicemembers Act will reinforce the rights granted to our servicemembers under USERRA and ensure that they can focus on their mission and get home safely, while on active duty or deployed,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Member of the Armed Services Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus.


“Our service men and women put their lives on the line for their country and shouldn’t be punished by civilian employers for doing so,” added Congressman Walter Jones. “I am honored to do all I can to help those who’ve worn the uniform.”


“Our brave military men and women and their families make tremendous sacrifices in service to this country. They shouldn't have to sacrifice their financial stability – which is why they have the right not to lose their jobs while deployed,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “This bill closes a loophole to better protect servicemembers, including those in the Reserves and National Guard, by ensuring their rights to return to work after they’ve served our country.”