Feds Investigate Possible USERRA Violation

November 22, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Federal authorities are investigating whether a Peoria, Illinois federal agriculture lab illegally fired a scientist because his Army Reserve deployments interfered with his research duties.

The US Department of Labor (DoL) is looking into whether the facility violated the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA), which is designed to protect returning service personnel from potential workplace discrimination, the Peoria Journal Star reported.

A few days before his most-recent deployment, microbiologist Bruno Mannarelli filed a complaint with the DoL’s Veterans Employment and Training Service, Dottress Reeves, assistant director of the agency, the newspaper said. Mannarelli was officially terminated from the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research November 12, the same day he was shipped out to coordinate intelligence gathering with the CIA.

Allegations in the case contend Mannarelli’s supervisors, particularly research leader Cletus Kurtzman, used a little-known performance evaluation clause to justify Mannarelli’s termination. The lab is a subsidiary of the US Department of Agriculture.

A lieutenant colonel in Military Intelligence with the Army Reserves, Mannarelli has served as a reservist for more than 25 years. He was called up during the first Gulf War and again was activated for Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 23 to May 19, 2003. During that time, he was with the Human Intelligence Section of the European Command, monitoring classified information and reporting to the NATO Commander.

When Mannarelli returned to the lab after those 85 days of active duty, he was unable to complete goals of the projects he was assigned before being sent overseas by the end of 2003, according to the newspaper report.