One would hope for better from the U.S. Postal Service. They employ many veterans. They have a veterans hiring program. But, in the case of Army Reserve Sergeant Major Richard Erickson, the USPS attempted to terminate his employment even before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. SGM Erickson was fired from his USPS job in Ft. Myers, Florida in 2000 because he had too much military leave. He had worked for the USPS since 1988. But, between 1996 and 2000, he worked only four days for the Postal Service. He was on active duty with the National Guard. Back in the days before the current statute, USERRA, there was no limit on how much active duty a National Guardsman could perform. Now, under USERRA, there is a limit of five years, after which a Reservist or Guardsman can be terminated. As SGM Erickson said, it was pretty hurtful to think he could be fired for serving his country.
But, his legal odyssey was just beginning. In 2005, the single father of three left active duty and went on unemployment benefits. He entered the Army Reserve. He filed his first complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board in 2006. He eventually ended up in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit twice on appeals of various issues.
In this latest ruling from the MSPB, the MSPB ordered that he be reinstated to the job he lost in 2000. That reinstatement would include the back pay he would have earned if he had not been terminated. The Army Times (20 Jan 2014 edition) says he could be entitlted to $1 million to $2 million in total damages, including attorney fees. The court will allow an offset for the amount he has actually earned since 2000. The award will likely be the largest ever assessed against the U.S. Postal Service.
The latest issue for appeal was whether SGM Erickson timely submitted his request to return to his civilian job. The Federal Circuit ruled that that issue did not matter. What mattered was whether he lost his job due to his status as a member of the National Guard.
As SGM Erickson said, this was not just about him. It was about all service members who try to juggle two careers, one civilian and one military. After he was terminated, he could not get a job with the federal government. Speaking as a former Guardman and Reservist, we should not have to sacrifice our civilian career for our military career. And, shame on the Postal Service for fighting so tenaciously over what appear to be technical, legal issues.