A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
U.S. SUES COOK COUNTY AND COUNTY PENSION FUND to Enforce the Employment Rights of Army RESERVE Member
CHICAGO – The United States today filed a civil lawsuit alleging that a Cook County pension fund and Cook County willfully violated federal law by failing to allow a U.S. Army Reserve member to lawfully contribute to her pension for the time she was serving in the armed forces, announced Gary S. Shapiro, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and the Justice Department.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of Army Reserve Capt. Latoya A. Hayward, of Chicago, against the Cook County and the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County. It alleges violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
According to the complaint, in 2008 Hayward began working for John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital, which is owned and operated by Cook County.
During her employment with Stroger Hospital, Hayward was mobilized for a two-year tour of duty with the Army Reserves starting on July 27, 2009.
During Hayward’s period of active service, she was mobilized as a nurse case manager at Walter Reed Hospital as part of the Warrior Transition Brigade.
Upon Hayward’s return from duty, the complaint alleges that the county pension fund notified her that not only was she ineligible to make payments into her pension for the 90-day grace period following her active military service, but also that her employee contributions for the two-year period of her active military service would be subject to a 3 percent interest fee.
Among the protections provided by USERRA are pension-related benefits that treat service members who are called to active duty as if they have had no break in service for purpose of the administration of pension benefits.
According to the complaint, both of the pension fund’s requirements for her participation in the plan violated USERRA’s pension protection provisions.
“Members of the Army Reserves sacrifice time away from their jobs to serve their country,” said Mr. Shapiro. “Federal law ensures that they are not discriminated against after they have returned and their employment rights are protected,” he said.
“When Congress enacted USERRA, it was to protect our men and women in uniform from experiencing this kind of alleged injustice,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
“The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing federal laws that protect the employment rights of our service members.”
The case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor following an investigation by the department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
The Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey M. Hansen, are representing the government and working with the Labor Department to protect the jobs and benefits of National Guard and Reserve service members upon their return to civilian life.
Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department website: www.servicemembers.gov and www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp, as well as on the Labor Department’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.