A Re-examination of USERRA and Our Government’s Commitment to Reservists

In 1994, the government entered into a covenant between military reservists and private employers in the form of a law (USERRA) which ensures that those who chose to serve our country and at the same time who work for private companies are not penalized for such a dual commitment. Many companies faithfully honor this obligation which is morally right and has the force of law behind it. However, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals – which is one step below the U.S. Supreme Court – has ruled in one case that a pre-employment arbitration signed by an employee/reservist can be honored despite the law that allows reservists to return to their jobs after periods of active-duty service.

 

The specific case involves an active duty military reservist named Kevin Ziober who worked for BLB Resources. Ziober was fired by BLB Resources on his last day of work before deploying to Afghanistan. (The company denied that it fired Ziober because of his military service.) Prior to his termination, Ziober signed an arbitration agreement that eliminated his right to sue his employer. The court ruled that the arbitration agreement that Ziober signed did strip him of his right to sue under USERRA. However, the court did not challenge the validity of USERRA itself. To that point, Ziober, his attorney and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, have expressed the need for USERRA to be strengthened in a manner that gives service members the right to sue despite their having been an arbitration agreement in effect prior to their termination.

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