On June 29, 2022, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety. The Court’s majority upheld the right of veterans who work for state and local governments to seek judicial relief for violations of their rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA protects the rights of veterans to reemployment after tours of uniformed service (for example, if called up to duty in the Reserves or the National Guard), as well as protecting veterans from discrimination for having engaged in uniformed service. At issue in Torres was how victims of alleged USERRA violations by state and local government employers could pursue their claims in court. USERRA provides that—except for cases where the federal government intervenes to enforce USERRA rights—claims against state and local government employers that reach the state of being filed in court must be filed in state courts instead of federal courts. See 38 U.S.C. § 4323(b)(1, 2). Torres was an employee of the Texas Department of Public Safety, who invoked his reemployment and reasonable accommodation rights under USERRA after being injured while serving in the Army Reserve in Iraq. After Torres filed his claim in Texas state court (as required by USERRA), Texas moved to dismiss the claim on grounds of sovereign immunity. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the states had waived their sovereign immunity in granting Congress war powers under the Constitution—and that this waiver included waver of immunity against damages claims that Congress would enact pursuant to those war powers (such as the private damages claims under USERRA). Accordingly, Torres’ claims were allowed to proceed for further litigation. If you are a veteran, and believe that your veterans rights to reemployment have been violated or that you have been discriminated against based on your uniformed service, consider contacting Gilbert Employment Law to request an initial consultation.
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