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Connecticut appeals court allows veterans to sue for discrimination in state court

America has been at war for over a decade. That can take a toll on the men and women who are risking their lives for their country. This includes finding employment upon returning from duty.

The Connecticut Appeals Court recently allowed veterans dismissed from private and government employment because of military service to sue in state court. Previously, veterans dismissed in Connecticut because of deployment had to resort to federal court, which can be more difficult and expensive to pursue.

O'Toole v. Eyelets for Industry, Inc.

The case arose when Brian O'Toole, a member of the Connecticut Army National guard, was deployed to Iraq in 2004. His employer subsequently terminated his employment. O'Toole had previously missed some work due to military training.

O'Toole filed a wrongful termination suit under federal law through the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which guarantees military members the right to be re-employed as a civilian if they temporarily serve in the Armed Forces. O'Toole brought the suit in state court, which dismissed the case. The state trial court found that it did not have the jurisdiction to try the case and indicated O'Toole must file in federal court. He appealed, and in February 2014 the Connecticut Appellate Court reversed the trial court's decision, holding that he could file in state court.

"The general principle of state-court jurisdiction over cases arising under federal laws is straightforward: state courts [have] jurisdiction over a federal cause of action absent provision by Congress to the contrary," wrote retired Connecticut Supreme Court Justice David Borden in the decision. There is no provision stating that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction in USERRA.

O'Toole still plans to continue the lawsuit, despite the fact he is now employed as a police officer. O'Toole believes the case sets an important precedent, his attorney told WNPR News. According to the United States Department of Labor, USERRA covers private and public workers and seeks to ensure military veterans "can seek employment free from discrimination because of their service." USERRA also protects disabled veterans, requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate a veteran's disability.

The current law is an expansion and clarification of several federal laws that have protected veterans from discrimination because of their service for decades. The first such law was the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940.

Veterans have employment rights

Deployed veterans have enough issues to deal with without having to worry about employment upon returning from service, which is why Congress enacted USERRA. Connecticut veterans who have been wrongfully terminated under federal law can now bring a lawsuit in state court, which can be less demanding and expensive than federal court. Connecticut veterans who have experienced wrongful termination or a failure to accommodate a disability should contact an experienced employment discrimination attorney to discuss their legal rights and options.