Returning soldiers and sailors who are denied jobs they held before deployment must submit their employment claims to arbitration rather than suing, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals curbed the right of service members to take alleged violation of a 1994 military job rights law directly to court and instead held that an employer may require arbitration of the claims.
The ruling is a blow to the work rights of soldiers and sailors returning from overseas deployments who find their jobs gone or who are fired due to military service.
Kevin Ziober, agreed to arbitration terms in his job contract with BLB Resources in Los Angeles, but later sued saying he was fired from his job after he notified his boss that he would be deployed to Afghanistan in the U.S. Navy Reserves. BLB Resources is a real estate marketing and management company.
Ziober, who returned from Afghanistan in 2014, claimed violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, USERRA, which established job rights for returning service members.
He argued the USERRA prohibited compelled arbitration of claims, but the 9th Circuit disagreed.
“We join the other circuits to have considered the question and conclude that USERRA contains no such prohibition,” wrote Judge Mary Murguia.
She concluded that USERRA’s text is “ambiguous on the question” of a prohibition on arbitration of claims.
“We acknowledge the possibility that congress did not want ‘members of our armed forces to submit to binding, coercive arbitration agreements.’ That intention, however, is not expressed in the statute itself or in the legislative history,” she concluded.
Judge Paul Watford concurred, writing separately, he said he doubted “we are reaching the right result” but said interpretation is open to debate and he did not believe it “prudent” to create a split with other circuits.
Making this a case with the potential to interest the full court in en banc reconsideration and perhaps disregard a circuit split.
Joining Murguia in the majority is visiting trial Judge Susan Bolton, of Arizona.
Case: Ziober v. BLB Resources Inc., No. 14-56374