Defense Contractor Wins USERRA Appeal

June 10, 2005 ( - A defense company who won a contract to provide support services at a military base had no obligation to hire a returning military service member who had worked for the previous contractor.

>The US 11 th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that Chugach Support Services Inc. wasn’t obligated to hire plaintiff Charles Coffman under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which protects the employment of soldiers returning from active duty.

>Even though USERRA defines “employer” to include a “successor in interest,”, the appeals court ruled Chugach did not qualify under that characterization to Del-Jen Inc., the contractor Coffman worked for before going on active duty, because the two companies didn’t merge or transfer assets.  As a result Chugach did not have to offer Coffman the position he held at Del-Jen, his old job,  under the law.

>Not only that, wrote Circuit Judge Joel Dubina, but Coffman didn’t prove that his military status was a motivating factor in Chugach’s decision not to hire him for his former position. Dubina said he found no evidence that Chugach treated military workers less favorably than nonmilitary workers and cited testimony that Chugach did not even have a managerial position available similar to the job Coffman had with Del-Jen.


>According to the court, Del-Jen won a contract to provide base support services at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida in 1997 and hired Coffman as a hazardous materials specialist. He was promoted to hazardous materials program manager in July 2001. Coffman, who was a noncommissioned officer in the Air Force Reserve, was ordered to active duty for one year beginning in November 2001. Del-Jen hired a temporary replacement.

>In October 2002, while Coffman was on active duty, the Air Force awarded the base support services contract to Chugach as the primary contractor, with Del-Jen as a subcontractor. Chugach interviewed 100 Del-Jen employees and eventually hired 97 of them. Coffman interviewed with Chugach in September 2002 and said he wanted to keep his old job, which the Chugach officials were surprised to hear was a managerial job, the court said.

>Coffman began working for Del-Jen as a vehicle control coordinator, after returning from the service, which was not a managerial position but had pay comparable to his previous job. He sent a letter to Chugach asking for his old job. Chugach denied the request and asserted that Del-Jen’s rehiring him in a position with comparable pay satisfied the USERRA requirements.

>Coffman filed his USERRA suit in September 2003. A federal judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida also ruled for Chugach.

>The opinion in Coffman v. Chugach Support Servs. Inc., 11th Cir., No. 04-14382, 6/8/05 can be found  here .