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USERRA Provides Broad Protection for Service Members

U.S. Army veteran Le Roy Torres sued the Texas Department of Public Safety for failing to accommodate his service-related disabilities. Torres worked as a state trooper. While serving as a reservist in Iraq, Torres was exposed to toxic burn pits, causing a severe respiratory condition. This condition made it impossible for him to perform his previous job. He asked the Texas Highway Patrol to reemploy him in another position, but it refused. He resigned and sued the state under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). This Act prohibits employers from discriminating and retaliating against employees or applicants because of their military status. It protects the reemployment rights of individuals who leave their positions to serve in the military.

Texas initially argued it had sovereign immunity from USERRA suits, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that idea. In September 2023, a unanimous Texas jury awarded Torres $2.49 million after a short deliberation.

USERRA applies to almost all employers and does not require plaintiffs to file an administrative complaint with any federal or state agency. It has a broader definition of disability than the Americans with Disabilities Act. USERRA includes any disability incurred or exacerbated during military service and need not "substantially limit" one or more major life activities. Moreover, the Act imposes a more substantial obligation to accommodate a service member. In this instance, an employer must make reasonable efforts to accommodate the disability and help the employee become qualified to work in a job with the equivalent seniority, status, and pay. Employers may be required to provide training for another position at no cost to the service person. The Act has no statute of limitations, allowing service members to bring suits at any time. Torres received eleven years of back pay.