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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Lawsuits: Federal Gov’t Fails To Protect Military Reservists Returning To Civilian Jobs

 August 23, 2019 at 10:16 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 When members of the National Guard and reserve are called away to serve in the military, the law protects them from losing their jobs or being denied promotions. KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh says there have been thousands of complaints against employers who don't follow the law and in many of those cases, the employer is the federal government itself. Speaker 2: 00:21 Marco spent 20 years as a special agent in the U S Drug Enforcement Administration until they retired last year. Coast also spent 30 years in the marines most of that time in the reserves. Speaker 3: 00:32 Hey one, he's in this defense department. Video shot at Camp Pendleton in 2011 I'm Lieutenant Colonel Mark Coast, the Commanding Officer Battalion 14th Grains Coast Artillery Brigade was practicing in the California desert, only come out for our annual training. We're able to exercise the metals that we need on an artillery battalion that you just can't get done in the two to three days. On a drill weekend. Speaker 2: 00:58 By 2011 coasted had already served four tours in Iraq as a marine reserve officer. While on leave from the DEA. He's now part of a lawsuit with 15 other DEA agents from San Diego who alleged that their supervisors discriminated against agents serving in the military. Co says, supervisors told him that continuing to serve just took too much time away from their full time jobs. Speaker 4: 01:21 Never in my wildest dreams did I or any of my colleagues assumed that we would get the most grief coming from our office. Speaker 2: 01:30 Coast says he and other reservists were denied promotions at DEA. He describes another agent who was moved to an office hours away from his home. Co says one of his supervisors came up to him in the mail room after he had just come back from his first tour in Iraq. Speaker 4: 01:44 He was asking me about my experience there and I said, yeah, it was pretty hard fighting up to Baghdad and I said, I got wounded at one point and he said, well, you know, if you hadn't stayed in the reserve, this wouldn't have happened. So you pretty much deserve everything you get. Speaker 2: 01:58 The DEA won't comment on ongoing litigation in the U S Justice Department. Patrick bullae heads the office of the special counsel, which enforces the federal uniform services, employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or you Sarah. Speaker 5: 02:12 We have an all volunteer military, so obviously this law helps keep our military all volunteer by, you know, giving people employment protection when they're trying to get a civilian job. Speaker 2: 02:23 The law requires the federal government to be the model employer, but over the last decade, out of the more than 11,800 cases filed through the department of labor, about 17% were filed against the federal government. The agencies named most frequently are those with the closest ties to the military. Civilians in the Department of Defense filed the most cases, about 500 followed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Postal Service and homeland security, which has the coast guard and border patrol. Speaker 5: 02:53 One could argue that it's because they employ a lot of veterans and service members, but of course we also want those agencies to be doing their best not to violate the law. Speaker 2: 03:02 Boulay says he believes in the vast reaches of the federal government. There are supervisors who just don't understand the long. One problem with UCRA is it's designed to get relief for individuals. [inaudible] says he can't force an entire agency to change its policies toward reservists. So the same issues keep cropping up. Brian Lawler is a retired marine reserve aviator and a San Diego lawyer who handles you sera cases. He says half of his cases are federal workers. Speaker 6: 03:29 We represent a gentleman who is a senior officer in the army reserve and a senior civilian employee working for the exact same command who is being denied benefits of his reserve service by the same command for whom he works as a civilian. Speaker 2: 03:44 You, Sarah cases can take years to resolve and at the moment the process is even slower. The merit systems protection board, which oversees appeals by federal workers, hasn't met in more than a year. The Trump administration was slow to offer appointments and the Senate hasn't confirmed any new members. The board has a backlog of 2100 cases waiting for its review. Steve Walsh KPBS news. Speaker 1: 04:11 This story was produced by the American homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting. Speaker 7: 04:32 [inaudible].

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Claiming they are denied promotions and pay, reservists and guard troops are suing their civilian employers under a federal law designed to protect their civilian careers. Federal agencies are seeing some of the highest number of complaints.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments