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Military-leave suit targets law firm

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The U.S. Department of Justice says an Indianapolis law firm wrongfully refused to re-employ a staff attorney who'd returned from serving in Iraq as a member of the Indiana Army National Guard.

Filing a four-page suit Monday in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, the DOJ is suing on behalf of Mt. Vernon resident and National Guardsman Matthew B. Jeffries who now works as a bankruptcy attorney in Evansville. The suit accuses Indianapolis law firm Mike Norris & Associates of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which requires those who leave their jobs to serve in the U.S. military be timely re-employed by their civilian employers in the same or comparable position that they would have held if they hadn't left to serve their country.

Jeffries was called to active duty in February 2003 and deployed at the beginning of the Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq. Returning in April 2004 with an honorable discharge, he contacted Mike Norris & Associates about returning to his job and the firm refused to re-employ him, the suit alleges. Jeffries filed a complaint with the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), which investigated, determined the claim had merit, and referred the matter to the justice department.

Jeffries couldn't be reached at his Evansville office Tuesday morning, and Norris declined to comment on the allegations. His counsel, Indianapolis attorney Dan Emerson at Bose McKinney & Evans, said he wasn't aware that his client had been served the complaint yet and that it would premature to comment before that happens.

More than three dozen of these USERRA cases have been filed nationally since the start of the Iraqi war in 2003, including six this year, according to the DOJ employment litigation section Web site. One filed Feb. 27, 2009, in Dayton, Ohio, involved Indiana National Guardsman Kevin Stenger, who was put in a lower position after returning from a two-week annual military training to his job at industrial electrical contractor Wagner Industrial Electric. Instead of getting his previous position of foreman, Stenger was given the spot of journeyman and received a lower salary, fewer responsibilities, and less overtime opportunity. That suit remains pending.

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