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Beware new trend: Courts increasingly cut slack for vets

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

More and more former service members are using the benefits Congress provided when it passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). In a recent decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Illinois employers, excused a former service member from even the most minimal of requirements before filing suit.

The court said he didn’t even have to pay the filing fees and costs usually required before a lawsuit can be launched.

Recent case:
Robert Davis, a Vietnam veteran, worked briefly as an answering service agent for a health center. The center terminated him before he completed his training period and he tried to file a USERRA lawsuit in federal court. But because he never ponied up the filing fee, the district court threw out his case.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it. The court reasoned that lots of laws give veterans and service members the right to file a lawsuit without paying fees. Although USERRA doesn’t specify any kind of fee waiver, the court said it was applying the concepts other “soldier and sailor” relief laws use. (The government designed soldier and sailor laws to protect service members from lawsuits they can’t defend while on active duty.)

The lawsuit now begins anew. (Davis v. Advocate Health Center Patient Care Express, No. 07-2709, 7th Cir., 2008)

Final note:
This case is clearly part of a trend, one that may lead to more litigation for organizations that employ veterans. Familiarize yourself with laws such as USERRA that provide service members with special protections.

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