Congress pushes for disclosure of employers who violate veterans law


The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee has begun an investigation after revelations that the Labor Department is shielding the identity of employers who violate a landmark service members’ employment law, a committee official said this week.

This month, an American-Statesman investigation revealed that the Labor Department is refusing to disclose the identities of thousands of employers who have been accused of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, which protects the jobs of reservists and National Guard members when they are called to active duty, even after multiple complaints or findings of fault.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who called for a House Veterans Affairs Committee investigation after the Statesman story, said he would like to see new disclosure procedures in place “before the new administration begins.”

“The public has a right to know when their rights are being ignored by an indifferent employer,” Doggett wrote in a letter to the House Veterans Affairs Committee last week. “Public access to this information would increase accountability, deter future illegal behavior and inform veterans.”

The 1994 USERRA law, which also prohibits employers from denying promotions or forcing service members into lesser jobs when they return, was used by thousands of reservists and National Guard members called to duty during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 15 years. The Labor Department investigates hundreds of potential USERRA violations every year, though service members can also bring private lawsuits against employers.

Texas employers led the nation in USERRA complaints last year, and the state has dozens of employers with multiple USERRA complaints over the past decade. Among the offenders are dozens of federal, state and local governmental agencies, which likewise haven’t been identified.

More than 230 claims of USERRA violations were granted or settled after federal investigations over the past decade in Texas, and 16 Texas employers have had two or more claims granted or settled after Labor Department investigations.

As a consequence of the department’s stance, even violations by large corporations and government agencies employing thousands apparently escape public notice. Service members working for such employers, or considering working for them, remain unaware of what might be a poor track record when it comes to treating their employees who are called to active duty or weekend drills.

Labor Department officials told the Statesman they must withhold the names of employers to protect the privacy of veterans and service members who file complaints about them, citing the possibility of small employers with few employees. But the department also refused to name large state and federal agencies, saying they were unable to determine the local “presence” of an agency.

Doggett said he has been told a new Labor Department case management system could allow veterans to approve the release of the name of their employers. The department wouldn’t confirm whether the new system would allow for employer disclosure, saying it was still in development.

The Labor Department “looks forward to working with Congressman Doggett and others on how to best enforce USERRA while safeguarding the privacy and rights of those who served and sacrificed for the nation,” a department spokesman said in a statement.

A House Veterans Affairs Committee spokesman said its investigation has the “goal of finding a way to notify veterans and the public regarding employers who have violated USERRA while still protecting the privacy rights of veterans.”

It’s not clear if potential disclosure rules would affect only future USERRA complaints or also the thousands of cases that have been investigated by the Labor Department over the past decade.

Records obtained by the Statesman show that several employers regularly receive complaints in Texas, including a private company headquartered at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport that has seen nearly two dozen complaints from airline pilots, ticket agents and freight movers; an Amarillo firm that has received 11 complaints from employees, all security guards; and a private company in Round Rock that has been investigated nine times after complaints from computer engineers and lawyers.

Government agencies are also among the chronic offenders, with nearly 40 percent of employers with multiple complaints in Texas being local, state or federal agencies, a rate of public sector malfeasance that is higher than the overall national average of about one-third.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Court rejects defense lawyer Adam Reposa’s bid for early jail release
Court rejects defense lawyer Adam Reposa’s bid for early jail release

Denied bail as he serves six months in jail for contempt of court, Austin defense lawyer Adam Reposa could stay behind bars for most — if not all — of his sentence before he gets the chance to tell an appeals court that a judge botched his case. Reposa’s lawyer, Keith Hampton, said his client has been treated “uniquely&rdquo...
JUST IN: Small fire chars Iron Works barbecue joint; no injuries reported
JUST IN: Small fire chars Iron Works barbecue joint; no injuries reported

Austin fire officials said a heat source being too close to combustible materials caused a small fire at the Iron Works barbecue restaurant in downtown Austin on Friday. Firefighters initially reported a small fire in the wall of the restaurant, located at 100 Red River St., around 11:30 a.m., the Austin Fire Department said. Although the restaurant...
COMMUNITY NEWS: Georgetown to break ground on new civic campus Tuesday
COMMUNITY NEWS: Georgetown to break ground on new civic campus Tuesday

TRAVIS COUNTY AUSTIN Parks department presents Christmas play The Austin Parks and Recreation Department will present “People of Color Christmas,” an original, comedic play written by Vietnamese-American playwright Christine Hoang and directed by Rudy Ramirez. Showtimes will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 1-2 at the Asian American Resource Center, 8401...
2 men wounded in overnight shooting in North Austin, police say
2 men wounded in overnight shooting in North Austin, police say

Austin police responded to a shooting in North Austin early Friday that wounded two men. The shooting occurred in the 9600 block of North Lamar Boulevard, just north of Rundberg Lane sometime before 12:30 a.m. Friday, which was when Austin police said via Twitter that officers were at the scene. One of the men had injuries not considered to be life-threatening...
1 killed in collision on MLK Jr. Blvd. in East Austin late Thursday
1 killed in collision on MLK Jr. Blvd. in East Austin late Thursday

A woman was killed in a collision on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in East Austin late Thursday, according to police. Authorities said the two vehicles collided shortly before 10:40 p.m. near the intersection of MLK and Temple Drive, just west of Springdale Road. A man and a woman, both described as in their 20s, were injured and taken downtown...
More Stories