Florida Federal Court Interprets Amended Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)

A federal judge in Tallahassee recently ruled that the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) protects a servicemember returning from duty even if his former work location has been taken over by a new company. USERRA requires an employer to reemploy a soldier after an absence necessary for service in the United States military, subject to specified conditions. The obligation extends to an employer’s “successor in interest.” In Brown v. Lincoln Property Co., 354 F. Supp. 3d 1276 (N.D. Fla. 2019), the court held that “successor in interest” is not merely a buyer of the company, but also a totally unrelated company that happens to assume the predecessor’s operation.

In Brown, a Naval Reservist called for active duty returned from a six-month deployment to find that the apartment complex where he performed maintenance had changed management companies, and the new management company refused to hire him, even though it had kept most or all of the prior company’s other employees. Previous caselaw denied protection to servicemembers whose employers were replaced by an otherwise-unrelated company based upon conventional corporate “successor in interest” analysis. Nonetheless, the court noted that Congress passed the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, which expanded the definition of “successor in interest.” Furthermore, the Court noted that the Naval Reservist was entitled to additional remedies under the Florida Uniformed Servicemembers Protection Act (“FUSPA”), which also incorporates the federal protections.

The bottom line is that the expanded the USERRA and FUSPA laws apply in a wide variety of contexts and must be carefully studied and understood by all employers.