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Federal Court Upholds Plymouth’s Local Ordinance in Department of Justice Challenge

April 1, 2014
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Monday, Federal Judge James T. Moody ruled in favor of the City of Plymouth in a U.S. Military Reserve Officer’s 2012 lawsuit seeking city longevity pay under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

In the suit, the employee asserted he was entitled to longevity pay for time spent on leave of absence from the city while serving in the reserve. Longevity pay is additional compensation that the city provides to qualified employees as an incentive to remain in service to the city. For employees on a leave of absence, local ordinance states that longevity pay will be prorated based on the number of months of actual work performed during the year. The employee in question received prorated longevity pay for time actually worked, but also sought pay for the entire year contending a federal statute required such payment.

USERRA is a federal law enacted in 1994 that protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and reserve troops who may be absent from their jobs during military service. The Act applies to both governmental and private employers and allows for representation by Department of Justice lawyers of employees claiming a violation. USERRA provides that it supersedes any conflicting local law that “reduces, limits or eliminates” any rights or benefits of a service member. The employee claimed that longevity pay was a benefit of seniority protected by USERRA and that Plymouth’s local ordinance prorating such pay was in conflict with the federal law. The federal court disagreed in a nine page opinion.

The court provided that “USERRA does not prohibit Plymouth from making a pro-rata reduction to [the employee's] longevity pay for the eight-month period of work he missed while on active duty.” The court further held that the amount of longevity pay was intended to be compensation for work actually performed rather than a seniority-based benefit. That fact was supported in part, the court found, by language of Plymouth’s ordinance, which was enacted “in the interest of fiscal responsibility and fairness” to pay public employees, regardless of their military status, only for time actually worked.

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