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168 Days: USERRA Advice

By Ken Snyder

NOTE: I AM NOT A LAWYER. My advice is from first-hand experience, both what was done right and what was done wrong. This is also covered on the "Where Am I Now" page, I just decided to add a little more and make this a one-stop shop for what to do and what not to do.

  1. TAKE YOUR TIME - BUT DON'T DELAY. USERRA does not have a time limit. However, it can be looked at unfavorably if you take too much time in filing a claim. Don't rush into filing a suit (see next note), but don't sit on it too long. What you want to do is take a long look at the following notes and apply accordingly.
  2. Do your homework. Does your state allow attorneys to front certain costs associated with a suit?. If I would have known this ahead of time, I would have applied number 5 below and potentially achieved far more than I did.
    Even if your attorney takes your case on a "contingency fee" basis you will have costs. While your attorney (in USERRA cases) can get filing fees waived and might not ask for much money up-front there will be things they cannot pay for, depending on state laws.
  3. Visit the ROA SMLC Pages! The Reserve Officer's Association (ROA) has an extensive Service Member's Law Center (SMLC) that has thousands of Law Review pages on legal issues affecting current and retired service members. The articles are arranged by subject matter as well as by date of publication. Many of the Law Review articles deal with USERRA in depth, including articles dealing with my case in particular.
  4. Contact Sam Wright! Captain (retired) Sam Wright was a lawyer with the Department of Labor that helped write the paper that eventually became USERRA, and has written volumes of information on the act. He was a paid employee of ROA and operated their SMLC, but has since retired and now does work for them on a voluntary basis. Look up his contact information here (ROA SMLC page link) - you will not find a more knowledgeable person on the subject.
  5. Save for a rainy day -- a biblical flood, to be exact. What hurt the most was when I realized that I could not "outspend" BPU, and it would take money (that I didn't have) to keep going. If I would have set aside the separation bonus I got from American Airlines the funds would be in place to pay for the depositions; we wouldn't have had the foundation work done on our house but this story would have ended far differently.
    I would go so far as to say if you receive a sizeable amount of money just before or right after you change jobs (like I did) or a fat tax refund/rebate, sit on that money until you're sure you are in a secure position -- and even then be prepared for the unexpected.
  6. Does your employer really support our troops? Remember, these people have a signed "Statement of Support" on file with ESGR (that I'd love to see get revoked) and even accepted an ESGR "Patriot Award" (without the person nominating them knowing a thing about it after the award was presented to them by ESGR - me) and they still pulled this stunt. With the operational tempo that Guard and Reserve units have now there will be employers that don't want to be "burdened" with a "weekend warrior" on the payroll. Don't let a bunch of flag-waving mislead you, there are a lot of fake patriots out there.
  7. Document, Document, Document. Even if you have a military-friendly employer there's no telling when some functionary inside the company will decide to take his anti-military bias out on you. Much like you were told to keep your "head on a swivel" when the stuff hits the fan, you need to maintain situational awareness when it comes to potential discrimination. Don't think it can't happen: it has happened in the past, it's happening now, and it will happen in the future. You never know when that "harmless" little memo, project report, or evaluation (like mine) could come in handy. In my near-perfect hindsight I wish I had kept more copies of what I did and even taken pictures of my work as I did it -- that would have really made it hard for BPU to try those "unable to complete work on jobs and tasks required of the position" "did not pay attention to detail when asked to complete a task" "not completing tasks in a timely manner" excuses.
  8. DOL Will Do Very Little. Judging from my experience (and from what others have told me) the Department of Labor is not on your side. In fact, from what I read in their own file they seemed to be far more willing to "discuss" things with BPU's attorneys than they were with me. They are supposed to be neutral while they're investigating, but it would be nice if they actually would do some investigating. Don't expect too much from DOL unless you can hand them a paper that pretty much states you were fired for being in the military.

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