Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

August, 2004

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 time.”

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 krizzardi@yahoo.com. For more information, visit www.esgr.org

Keith W. Rizzardi is a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August, 2004

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