The Department of Justice has announced that it reached a settlement agreement with the Warren County Board of Education that resolves a federal lawsuit brought under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) earlier this year on behalf of Command Sergeant Major Dwayne Coffer of the Army Reserve.
In its complaint, the United States alleged that Warren County violated USERRA by eliminating CSM Coffer’s employment position while he was on active duty with the military and failed to re-employ him in a comparable position when he returned. According to the lawsuit, Warren County violated USERRA by demoting him to physical education teacher at Northside Elementary School instead of reemploying him in a job that is comparable to dean of students.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Warren County will reinstate Coffer to the position of dean of students at Warren County Middle School, and provide him with back pay and pension benefits. The reinstatement position is the one that Coffer held before his period of active duty with the Army.
“We’re very glad that the matter has been resolved and look forward to having Mr. Coffer come back,” Board of Education attorney Thompson said.
Thompson added that Coffer remains on active duty at this time.
“Command Sergeant Major Coffer was called upon to leave his civilian employment and serve our nation, and we are grateful for his service,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement agreement with Warren County resolves the USERRA claims brought by the United States and serves as a reminder that our servicemembers, like CSM Coffer, deserve fair and lawful reemployment following their returns from active military duty.”
United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon of the Eastern District of North Carolina agreed.
“Members of our reserves, like Command Sergeant Dwayne Coffer, are often called away from their civilian jobs in order to provide the security our nation depends on,” he said. “These citizen servicemembers should never face losing their jobs or be forced to accept an inferior position when they answer that call. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects these brave men and women, and, as this lawsuit demonstrated, the Department of Justice is committed to enforcing it when it is violated.”
The settlement represents a resolution to the second lawsuit filed against the local school board by the Department of Justice to protect Coffer’s federal rights.
The previous suit centered around a vote taken by the board of education in April 2008 to not renew the employment contract of Coffer, who was serving as an assistant principal at Warren County High School at the time. While working at the school, Coffer took periodic leave from work to fulfill his military obligations as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves.
The case revolved around a period in March and April 2008 when Coffer was completing military training while serving as acting principal at WCHS because the principal was out of work due to back surgery.
Coffer filed a complaint against the board of education in 2012, stating that he was under military orders to complete training, that he had filed the necessary forms for a military leave of absence and received approval by a school system administrator. Legal documents in the case indicated that school personnel questioned whether Coffer could have fulfilled his training obligations on weekends rather than the school year.
A settlement was reached in that suit in which the board of education agreed to reemploy Coffer under a two-year contract as a lead teacher/site supervisor at the salary he would have received if he had been employed continuously by the school system. In addition, the board of education agreed to pay back pay in the amount of $10,000 to Coffer and contribute lost retirement payments in the amount of $13,702.63 to his retirement account.