Reservists and guardsmen make up almost 40% of the U.S. military. While federal law protects them from discrimination by their civilian employers, one California reservist says he had to fight for his job, after fighting for his country.
Civilian employers are increasingly requiring employees to sign an agreement that any discrimination cases will be settled by arbitration and not by a court.
Military reservists typically serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year, but as many as a million have deployed since 9/11 - one of those is Lieutenant Kevin Ziober. He got orders to deploy to Afghanistan for a year in 2013 and found out shortly after he was fired by his employer, BLB resources, a federal contractor in California.
"The shock of learning of being terminated from my job on even a deployment to a combat zone created an unimaginable amount of concern and anxiety about how I would earn a living when I returned home," Ziober said in a June 2016 press conference.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 or USERRA is aimed to protect reservists from losing their civilian jobs when called to active duty, but increasingly many employers like Ziober's, require employees to sign an agreement that any employment disputes will be settled by arbitration.
"Arbitration often takes away the right to have a fair hearing, to get discovery, to have a fair arbitrator who is not bought and paid for by the employer, there's no right to an appeal in a significant way," said Peter Romer-Friedman, Ziober's lawyer.
Advocates for employers say settling disputes in arbitration is less costly. After the district court sided with ZIober's employer, he's set to begin the arbitration process with BLB Resources soon. Ziober hopes that his story can shed light on what thousands of reservists who have filed claims against their employers face every year.
"No warfighter who is asked to leave his job or risk his life for his country should ever need to worry about fighting for his job when he returns home," Ziober said in testimony before the Senate Veterans 'Affairs Committee in June 2016.
The Supreme Court has decided not to hear Ziober's case. KENS5 tried to call BLB Resources several times for comment but never heard anything back. Ziober and his attorney are hoping that Congress will pass the Justice for Service Members Act that would clarify that employers can't use arbitration to force service members to waive their employment rights through USERRA.