A Few Good Lawyers
~How civilian lawyers mediate disputes between
Maryland's soldiers and their employers~
By Tom Breihan
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment
Rights Act (USERRA) guarantees certain rights to members of the National
Guard and Reserves who are called to duty and leave their civilian jobs.
Among these rights are the right to prompt re-employment in a position of
like seniority, status and pay, upon return from military service.
Unfortunately, the law is unknown to many employers and misunderstood by
soldiers, so disputes often arise. To help solve these USERRA-related
disputes between employers and returning soldiers, Maryland’s Employer
Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Committee offers the services of
its volunteer Ombudsmen.
Imagine the soldier who returns home from Iraq, reports
back to his or her civilian job and discovers that an important aspect of
the job has changed. Common problems involve employers offering
re-assignment to new locations, schedules with modified hours or a delayed
raise or a return-to-work date. Alternatively, imagine the frustration of
the employer who is accommodating their soldier-employee but who is
confronted by demands for even greater rights than USERRA offers. Add to
this combustible mix the emotions spawned by the soldier’s shrinking bank
balances, late bill payments and other significant financial pressures.
Eventually, the soldier or the soldier’s commanding officer contacts ESGR
for help, and an Ombudsman is assigned to mediate the dispute.
Many of ESGR’s Ombudsmen are lawyers, says Lt. Col.
Brian Arnold, Deputy Director of Ombudsman Services for the National ESGR
Committee, who also coordinates the Ombudsman training seminars. “Getting
in the middle of a dispute is nothing new to a lawyer,” he says. “But
seriously, there are very few pro bono opportunities where you can
have such a great impact on a person’s life in such a short period of
Once assigned, the Ombudsman identifies the problems,
gains the respect and trust of both the soldier and the employer and leads
them to a solution. Ideally, the result is fair to the employer and
protective of the soldier’s rights, and both parties leave with an
increased understanding of USERRA to share with others. Most cases are
solved with just a few phone calls to the parties. Unresolved cases,
however, are referred to the Department of Labor for investigation and may
be sent to the Department of Justice for further action.
For some people, the volunteer job is a passion. “I
consider myself one of the best paid volunteers in the whole darn federal
government,” says Fred Samuelson, a Maryland resident and Ombudsman who
has handled and resolved hundreds of USERRA-related disputes. “I can think
of no better way for me to give back to these guys and gals, their
families, their employers and our military.”
Given the continuing deployment of soldiers in the
National Guard and Reserves as well as the increasing need for dispute
resolution services, the Maryland ESGR Ombudsman subcommittee is searching
for a few good lawyers. If you are interested in joining ESGR’s tradition
of successful dispute resolution, please send an e-mail with your name,
phone number, and an attached resume to
firstname.lastname@example.org. For more
information, visit www.esgr.org
Keith W. Rizzardi is a trial attorney for the United States Department