Austin, Texas - The Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas jointly announced the filing of a complaint in federal district court against WiFi Alliance, a non-profit organization headquartered in Austin. The complaint alleges that WiFi Alliance violated the employment rights of Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Charles O’Donnell, an Army Reservist, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
According to the complaint, O’Donnell’s military service was a motivating factor in WiFi Alliance’s decision to terminate his employment in 2016. WiFi Alliance implemented a reduction in force that resulted in its laying off O’Donnell concurrent with his military duty supporting West Point Admissions at the United States Military Academy. O’Donnell, a program manager, was selected for termination despite positive performance evaluations, seniority, and unique job responsibilities as compared to employees who were not laid off. O’Donnell served more than 22 years in the Armed Forces, and was a program manager with WiFi Alliance for three years before he was terminated. He was notified of his termination less than a month after he returned from military service.
“Through this lawsuit, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to protecting the employment rights of the members of our Armed Forces,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “The men and women of our armed services expect and are entitled to the peace of mind of knowing that their civilian employment will not be jeopardized because they serve our country.”
“Members of our armed forces make many sacrifices, including spending months or years away from their jobs and families,” said U.S. Attorney John F. Bash of the Western District of Texas. “When our service members are away from their homes, jobs, and families in the service of our country, they are entitled to retain their civilian employment and to the protections of federal law that prevent them from being subject to discrimination based upon their military obligations. We are filing suit today, as representatives of Lieutenant Colonel O’Donnell, a member of the United States Army Reserve, to ensure that he does not lose his rights while he was protecting ours.”
The lawsuit filed by the United States seeks damages equal to the amount of LTC O’Donnell’s lost wages and benefits. It also seeks an order requiring WiFi Alliance’s compliance with all provisions of USERRA.
LTC O’Donnell initially filed a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), which investigated this matter and attempted to reach a resolution between the parties. After resolution failed, VETS referred the complaint to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section. This lawsuit followed as a collaborative initiative between the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
Congress enacted USERRA to reduce employment disadvantages faced by non-career service members; to provide prompt reemployment for returning service members; to minimize disruption to the lives of those performing military service, their employers and others; and to prohibit discrimination and retaliation against those who serve in the uniformed services.