Home improvement retailer Lowe’s has agreed to settle a Justice Department claim that it terminated an employee without just cause after he returned from serving in the Iraq War. The consent decree, which still requires approval by a U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., requires that Lowe’s pay the employee, Matthew King, $45,000 for back pay and liquidated damages.
Lowe’s did not respond to a request for comments.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Lowe’s violated the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), a federal statute requiring employers to rehire anyone returning from military service in a position he or she would have attained had they not been called away. Employers are obligated to guarantee that employment for one year unless there is good cause to terminate the employee.
Lowe’s hired King in April 2008, according to the DOJ, and in September 2008, King provided Lowe’s a copy of his military orders deploying him to Iraq. He spent approximately a year in Iraq and returned to Oregon in May 2010 after being honorably discharged. Upon his return, King initially sought unemployment benefits on the basis of his federal military discharge, but never actually received any unemployment benefits. He sought reemployment with Lowe’s and was rehired there.
Within a couple of months, however, Lowe’s human resource department received notice of King’s initial application for unemployment benefits and summoned him to a meeting. Although King tried to explain to the human resources personnel that he had applied for unemployment before being reemployed by Lowe’s and because he had been discharged by the military, “Lowe’s fired King on the spot and made no further attempt to investigate the matter, even though King attempted to provide clarifying information from Oregon’s unemployment office to Lowe’s,” the DOJ claims.
The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) investigated and determined that Lowe’s had wrongfully terminated King without cause. The Department of Labor referred the matter to the Justice Department, Civil Rights Division, which coordinated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland to represent King in his USERRA claims against Lowe’s.
“Our service members need to know we will have their backs at home, including the right to have their job restored with their former employer when they return home after serving our country,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will vigorously enforce the law to ensure that an individual who has sacrificed so much to serve this country has a fair opportunity to be reemployed as the law provides.”