A Recent Supreme Court Ruling Lets Veterans Sue State Agencies For Discrimination
In a recent 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court now permits lawsuits against state agencies that engage in discriminatory practices against injured military personnel. This new ruling expands veterans’ employment rights and protection by overriding states’ sovereign immunity for these cases.
After serving as a captain in the Army Reserves for 19 years and being deployed to Iraq in 2007, Le Roy Torres was discharged from his position. As a result of his time in Iraq, he suffered lung damage and other injuries. Burn pits used by the military for waste disposal were one of the leading causes of his health issues. If inhaled constantly, the toxic fumes produced by the fire can cause long-term damage and lifelong difficulties to victims.
After returning to Texas, Torres couldn’t continue working as a state trooper due to constrictive bronchitis, which greatly limited his lung capacity. However, when he asked the state for another position, it refused to accommodate him, so he had no choice but to resign. Torres subsequently sued the state under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, a federal law mandating employers to accommodate veterans with disabilities appropriately.
After losing his lawsuit in state courts, Torres appealed to the Supreme Court. According to the state of Texas, non-consenting states have total immunity from private lawsuits like this one. The Supreme Court rejected these claims. The majority opinion, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, wrote that while states have their rights, they also “implicitly agree that their sovereignty would yield to federal policy to build and keep a national military.” Since the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act was passed under congress’s power to “raise and support armies,” states must follow federal law and protect veterans from discrimination.
What This Means For Veterans Going Forward
The ruling was a significant win for Torres and other veterans working for the state after service. It will expand employment protections for veterans with disabilities across the country and require state agencies to comply with their accommodations. If not, veterans can sue the state for any violations, leading to severe consequences if an agency fails to comply. With over half of veterans with a service-connected (SC) disability fearing discrimination in the hiring process, this ruling highlights that the government is taking steps to ensure veterans’ rights are being enforced nationwide.
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If you’re a veteran who has been unfairly treated or terminated at your workplace due to a disability, our New York attorneys are here to help you. Call us at 855-208-7783 if you have any questions, or submit an online intake form to schedule a free initial consultation today. We have offices in Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and more.