August 30, 2023
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced a legal victory in its longstanding effort to obtain relief for a Maine Air National Guardsman who was wrongfully denied reinstatement in his Postal Service job following his post-9/11 military duty. Last week, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which adjudicates federal employment claims, issued a Final Decision ordering the U.S. Postal Service to reinstate John D. Patrie of Lewiston, Maine, in his job as a Letter Carrier, with full back pay, retroactive to January 2016.
The MSPB’s ruling is the culmination of a six-year legal battle in which the Postal Service adamantly refused to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), a law that requires employers to restore service members to their civilian jobs after they finish serving in uniform.
Mr. Patrie was working at the Auburn, Maine post office when he was called to active duty by the Maine Air National Guard immediately following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Until his honorable discharge in December 2015, Mr. Patrie served almost continuously in direct support of the Global War on Terrorism. During that time, he regularly provided copies of his orders to USPS, maintained his employment benefits (including making retirement contributions and paying his union dues), and repeatedly expressed his desire to return to his postal job once his service ended. USPS gave him no indication that it would not reemploy him and even sent him letters thanking him for his service and a debit card to purchase his postal uniform. However, after Mr. Patrie notified USPS that he wished to return to his Letter Carrier position in January 2016, USPS told him it would not reinstate him because he had “abandoned” his civilian employment, even though he met all the law’s requirements.
Mr. Patrie then filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which found that USPS violated USERRA. After USPS refused DOL’s request to reinstate Mr. Patrie, DOL referred the case to OSC, which has authority to represent service members in USERRA claims against federal agencies, including USPS. OSC filed a lawsuit on Mr. Patrie’s behalf before the MSPB, where an Administrative Judge issued an Initial Decision in his favor in April 2019, and ordered USPS to provide Mr. Patrie with interim relief if it decided to file an appeal. USPS filed an appeal but did not provide any interim relief, throwing the case into legal limbo because the MSPB lacked a quorum of members who could rule on motions or appeals from January 2017-March 2022. As a result, Mr. Patrie had to find a new job, which provided much lower pay and benefits than his USPS employment.
“We are pleased with the MSPB’s ruling but remain dismayed that the Postal Service refused to provide Mr. Patrie with any interim relief, as the Administrative Judge ordered, and seemingly exploited the Board’s lack of a quorum in an attempt to delay justice for Mr. Patrie for as long as possible,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “We intend to get Mr. Patrie everything he is owed, no matter how long it takes. Federal government employers, especially, must do right by our veterans, and if they don’t, OSC stands ready to hold them accountable.”
USERRA is a federal law, passed in 1994, that protects military service members and veterans from employment discrimination and allows them to regain their civilian jobs following periods of uniformed service. It applies to members of the Armed Forces, Reserves, and National Guard, among others, and covers both public and private employers. OSC, in conjunction with DOL, enforces USERRA claims involving federal government employers. The Department of Justice enforces USERRA claims involving private employers as well as state and local governments. More information about USERRA is available at: https://osc.gov/Pages/USERRA.aspx.