Cicilline, Blumenthal, Conyers File Amicus Brief, Introduce Bill to Protect Jobs for Servicemembers


WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Ranking Member of the House
Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, U.S.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and U.S. Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking
Member of the House Judiciary Committee, today filed an amicus brief in support of
Lieutenant Kevin Ziober, a Navy reservist who lost his job when he was deployed to
Afghanistan in 2012. Cicilline and Conyers also reintroduced the Justice for
Servicemembers Act, legislation that ensures America’s men and women in uniform
cannot lose access to justice if they lose their jobs for being deployed overseas.

«No one who is brave enough to wear the uniform of the Armed Forces should ever lose
their job when they are called to serve overseas. It is sickening that this could
happen to a single veteran. It’s time for Congress to fix this broken system that
deprives our nation’s servicemembers’ basic legal rights,» said Congressman
Cicilline. «I’m proud to be introducing the Justice for Servicemembers Act with
bipartisan support in the U.S. House today. Our veterans deserve our full support,
and nothing less.»

«After fighting for our freedom overseas, no service member or veteran should have
to fight for their job when they come home,» Blumenthal said. «And they certainly
shouldn’t be denied their right to their day in court if their federal rights are
violated. I urge the Court to consider this case, so that our nation’s service
members and veterans are able to exercise fundamental right to seek remedies for
being unjustly fired or exploited through the court system.»

The day before his deployment, Lieutenant Kevin Ziober’s employer, BLB Resources,
Inc., a federal contractor, wrongfully terminated Ziober and later prevented Ziober
from enforcing his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment Rights Act of 1994
(USERRA), by invoking an arbitration agreement that Ziober was forced to sign as a
condition of employment. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the used of forced
arbitration clauses even where they circumvent servicemembers’ legal rights, and
Ziober is currently petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.

«I applaud the Members of the House of Representatives for introducing this vitally
important legislation to restore the longstanding reemployment rights of veterans
who have honorably served in the Armed Forces. I am hopeful that bipartisan leaders
in Congress will come together to pass legislation this year that will clarify
USERRA’s language and help strengthen the rights that Congress originally intended
for Servicemembers,» said Lieutenant Ziober. «Until Congress stops employers from
taking away the rights of our country’s honorable servicemembers, those serving in
the Guard and Reserve will always be under a cloud of uncertainty wondering if their
civilian jobs will be waiting for them when they return home from service. That
doubt affects military readiness and undercuts our national security.»

Under USERRA, veterans and servicemembers are protected from discrimination based on
their military service and given the right to return to their civilian jobs once
their service ends. In recent years, however, Federal courts have allowed employers
to require servicemembers and veterans to sign mandatory arbitration agreements that
prohibit them from going to court to resolve an employment dispute. Under mandatory
arbitration agreements, companies can choose the arbiter and venue for a hearing
while denying an employee any right to appeal.

«For too long, companies have used secret arbitration to opt out of federal laws
passed to protect workers, consumers, and even members of our military,» said Amanda
Werner, arbitration campaign manager with Americans for Financial Reform and Public
Citizen. «This bipartisan legislation ensures that servicemembers can enforce the
very rights they fight to defend.»

Two-thirds of American companies use some kind of forced arbitration agreement. The
Justice for Servicemembers Act will render null and void any forced arbitration
agreement between an employer and a current or former member of the Armed Forces,
consistent with the congressional intent behind USERRA. The bipartisan legislation
ensures that servicemembers and veterans will be able to go to court to enforce
their right to return to a civilian job, rather than being forced into mandatory
arbitration. It will strengthen and preserve existing protections and promote
greater access to justice for those who have honorably served our country.

«U.S. servicemembers and veterans who fight vigorously for us on the battlefield
should have confidence in their legal rights at home,» added Christine Hines,
legislative director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. «We applaud
the introduction of the Justice for Servicemembers Act, which will ensure that
military members can go to court to enforce a critical law that protects them if
they are discriminated against in their civilian jobs.»

The Justice for Servicemembers Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives John
Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Walter Jones (R-NC), Timothy J. Walz (D-MN),
Ruben Gaellego (D-AZ), Henry C. «Hank» Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Matt Cartwright (D-PA),
Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Jackie Walorski (R-IN). U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal
(D-CT) has introduced a companion measure in the U.S. Senate.