Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman has denied any wrongdoing in the firing of Sgt. Michael T. Russell, an Iraq War veteran.
Schatzman claims he fired Russell for “disloyalty.” Russell calls it retaliation—as well as a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
Russell claims he was fired eight months after returning from a tour of Iraq after he bought $100 in tickets in a raffle run by Davie Griffith, a former deputy who was running against Schatzman for sheriff. Russell claims he simply wanted to win a motorcycle, the raffle’s first prize.
Russell filed a complaint under USERRA, claiming he was terminated because of his military service. The U.S. Department of Justice thought enough of his complaint to file suit against Schatzman.
A former Marine who joined the Army National Guard in 2007, Russell was also one of several North Carolina deputy sheriffs who unsuccessfully pushed for state law changes that would have limited sheriffs’ rights to hire and fire deputies.
Note: Although courts have not weighed in definitively, USERRA’s protections make it very difficult to fire veterans. When considering discipline against an employee who has served in the National Guard or military reserves, thoroughly document the reason for the discipline and make sure it has nothing to do with the employee’s military service.