We Honor Our Fallen

Today is Memorial Day and the day we turn our thoughts to the men and women who have lost their lives while serving in the United States armed forces.  At present, there are nearly 200,000 troops deployed in about 140 countries worldwide.  We hope for their safe return upon completion of their designated missions.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA) offers employment protections to these men and women upon their return.  Congress enacted USERRA in 1994 to protect the rights of persons who leave employment positions to undertake military service.

USERRA prohibits employers from denying uniformed service members employment, reemployment, retention, promotion or any benefit on the basis of their membership in the armed forces.  Employers violate USERRA if an employee's service is “a motivating factor” in the employer's adverse action, unless the employer can prove that the action would have been taken in the absence of such membership, service or obligation for service.

So, how can a school district run afoul of USERRA?

A case out of Houston ISD a few years ago demonstrates the point.  In Mayeaux v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 986 F. Supp. 2d 842, 847 (S.D. Tex. 2014), the district fired a middle school ROTC teacher.  Ms. Mayeaux was also an active member of the US National Guard and attended military service one weekend per month and military training fifteen days every year.

One school year, military training caused Mayeaux to miss teacher training at her school.  Mayeaux unfortunately missed out on training over new rules that prohibited fundraising by selling “foods of minimal nutritional value.”  (Bah humbug!)  A short time later, when her students tried to sell candy bars to raise funds for a school trip, Mayeaux got hit with a disciplinary memo for “unauthorized” fundraising, followed by deeper scrutiny over her other fundraising efforts.

Mayeaux was reassigned pending a district investigation.  The investigation found fundraising violations and other financial issues.  Unfortunately for the district, however, the investigation report spent a great deal of time and focus on Mayeaux’s military absences and concluded that “[b]ecause of Mayeaux’s absences along with the financial problems previously mentioned in this report, Ms. Mayeaux was relieved of her duties…”  Mayeaux sued asserting a violation of USERRA.

The District was unable to get the case dismissed before trial.  To prove a violation of USERRA, Mayeaux had to show that her military service was “a motivating factor” in the employment decision.  According to the court, statements in the investigation report and by her supervising principal related to her military absences supported a finding that her military service was a motivating factor behind her termination.

But, what about her violation of fundraising policies and other financial issues?

The point here is that, to find a USERRA violation, the teacher’s military service didn’t have to be the only reason behind the employment action, but just one factor motivating the decision.  The investigation’s negative treatment of her military absences was enough to allow the case to proceed to trial.  As the saying goes, loose lips sink ships.


Tomorrow:  All Rise For The Pledge Of Allegiance… or not.