By TOM MOOR
South Bend Tribune
4:50 PM EDT, July 16, 2012
SOUTH BEND -- The federal government filed a lawsuit against the city of Plymouth today, claiming the municipality failed to pay a city police officer longevity pay after he returned from an eight-month tour for the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
David Capp, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, alleges Plymouth violated the employment rights of Air Force Reservist Robert D. DeLee under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.
The act requires employers to re-employ service members to the position they would have had if their employment had not being interrupted by military service, which includes benefits.
Capp accused Plymouth of refusing to pay DeLee longevity pay, a senior-based benefit of employment.
Plymouth city attorney Sean Surrisi said today the city has been in contact over the past several months with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the issue.
Surrisi said the city will fight the lawsuit, adding he doesn't believe city ordinances are in conflict with the USERRA.
Surrisi said longevity pay for all employees on leave of absence is pro-rated based on the number of months worked in a year. In DeLee's case, it was four months.
"Federal statute requires benefits to be provided to service members. They should not be discriminated," Surrisi said. "But they should not be put in a better position than his fellow employees."
DeLee has served in the Air Force Reserve since 1997 and has worked as a patrolman in the Plymouth Police Department since 1999.
DeLee was mobilized for active duty with the Air Force between September 2010 and May 2011, according to a news release. After returning from active duty, Plymouth re-employed DeLee in his former position in the police department but allegedly refused to pay him the longevity pay that he would have received if he had not been called up to active duty.
"No service member should ever lose their seniority-based benefits provided by civilian employment because they took time out to protect our country," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. "No employer, whether a city or a private company, can deprive a service member of rights that USERRA affords through implementation of its own policy or local ordinances."
"The United States Attorney's Office has a complete and unwavering commitment to protecting the employment rights of military reservists when they return from active duty," Capp added.
This suit was filed as the result of an investigation by Veterans' Employment and Training Service of the Department of Labor. Assistant U.S. attorney Wayne T. Ault will be the United States' lead counsel in this civil litigation.
DeLee could not be reached for comment.
Staff writer Tom Moor:
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