The fundamental principle of USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act) is that a person should not suffer because s/he participates in the National Guard or Reserve duty. I wrote previously about one Reservist, Cpt. Nicole Mitchell, who very likely lost her job as anchor for the Weather Channel due to her Reserve duty. See that post here. She filed suit in 2012 and I said then her evidence sounded strong. 

Well, that was before I knew she had signed an arbitration clause with her employer. Her case has been stuck in limbo since then waiting for arbitration issues to play out. See Chris McKinney’s blog about her case here. She did not realize, as most workers do not, that she had signed an arbitration clause. She has not been able to secure new employment and has been waiting for an arbitrator to hear her case. Such is the world of arbitration: workers have rights but they may never get a chance to exercise them. And, in the meantime, they may remain unemployed. 

Note Chris’ comments that compared to traditional courts of law, those workers who take their cases to arbitration win about half the time they win in court (which itself is very low anyway) and when they win, they obtain about half the remedies they would in traditional courts. 

Its a heck of a way to say "thanks for your service, Cpt. Mitchell."

Major Nicole Mitchell has served in the Air Force Reserve some 20 years.  In her civilian life, she was an anchor for the Weather Channel.  Ms. Mitchell was forced out in 2010.  She has filed a claim alleging discrimination due to her Reserve status.  She says that after NBC (and Bain Capital and the Blackstone Group) bought out the Weather Channel in 2008, the new management complained about her military obligations.  She was moved to a less prestigious time slot.  She was told to clear military training with her civilian boss first.  (Hello, have these guys heard of AWOL?) Days after returning from her annual two week training, she was told her contract would not be renewed for "business reasons."  

Ms. Mitchell seems to have good evidence.  Simple timing of her termination suggests her military status was an issue for her supervisors.  She also benefits from the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act which sets up a presumption that her termination was due to her military service.  Under USERRA, she can hope to recover her lost wages.  If the violation is found to be "willful," then she can recover liquidated damages.  Liquidated damages are limited to the amount of lost pay and benefits. 

Maj. Mitchell says many people in her situation simply sign away their rights to a lawsuit to obtain a severance package.  But, she did not and is pursuing her legal remedies.  Like many employees, she signed an arbitration agreement.  Arbitration, as Ms. Mitchell mentions, is not favorable to employees.  One arbitrator mentioned at a recent Texas seminar that out of perhaps ten employment cases she has decided, only about two were decided in favor of the employee.  

Ms. Mitchell mentioned that she attended a meeting held by NBC at which high level managers affirmed their commitment to hiring veterans.  Apparently, they did not realize that Maj. Mitchell was in the room and had filed a claim against them for violating USERRA.  See AOL report.  Hiring veterans is different than hiring current, active members of the Guard and Reserve. 

I am biased, of course.  I served in the Army Reserve and National Guard for 25 years.  But, good for Maj. Mitchell for standing up to folks who do not appreciate her service.  And, I can attest from personal experience, it is difficult to balance the two jobs.  NBC would have gained far more if they had retained Maj. Mitchell.  I am still amazed at the complete lack of training mid-level managers usually receive in corporate America.  The military provided folks like Maj. Mitchell with a first-rate leadeship training that translates well to the civilian workforce.  Quality managers prevent many more problems than they cause.