Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging USERRA Violation

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on behalf of Jose A. Ortega, a Utah National Guard member, against Synapse Data and Telecom Inc., and Matthew Mossbarger, Synapse's owner and operator, alleging violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).

Under USERRA, an employer is prohibited from terminating an employee if the employee's service or obligation for service in the uniformed services is a motivating factor in the employer's action, unless the employer can prove that the action would have been taken in the absence of such service or obligation for service.

The complaint alleges that Ortega, then a network administrator for Synapse, enlisted in the Utah National Guard in April 2008 and was given orders to report for basic training the following month. According to the complaint, Ortega informed Mossbarger of his military enlistment and attempted to provide Mossbarger with a copy of his orders to report for basic training. Mossbarger tried to convince Ortega to rescind his military obligation, offering him benefits, a raise, and management opportunities. Mossbarger then terminated Ortega when Ortega declined to withdraw from the Utah National Guard.

Ortega filed a complaint with the Labor Department's Employment and Training Service (VETS). VETS investigated the matter, determined that Ortega's claim had merit, and upon completion of conciliation efforts, referred the matter to the Justice Department.

"The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously enforcing federal laws that protect the employment rights of our service members," said Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. "That commitment is evidenced by cases such as this where a service member's employment was terminated simply because he had committed to military service and would be reporting for training."

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department has given a high priority to the enforcement of service members' rights under USERRA. This is the tenth USERRA lawsuit filed this year by the Civil Rights Division on behalf of service members.

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