Is is possible to serve your country and serve Home Dept at the same time? Apparently not for Captain James Smith, a member of the Maryland Army National Guard, a member of the Marine Corps Reserve, and an employee at Home Depot for nine years. Captain Smith has filed a lawsuit against Home Depot in the U.S. District Court in the Maryland Northern Division. Smith charges that Home Depot violated his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Smith was hired by Home Depot in 1991 as a sales associate.According to his lawsuit, he was a dedicated employee who earned exemplary job evaluations. But Smith says he was subjected to discrimination in the form of denied promotions and retaliation “as a direct result of his membership in the Armed Forces”. In October of 1997, Home Depot indicated in writing that Smith was denied a promotion based on his military leave. Home Depot wrote that Smith was passed over for “another associate” who “was chosen for special services supervisor position because he had as good or better reviews as Mr. Smith, and he was not frequently out on military leave.” Accoring to Home Depot, “Mr.Smith has been out on military leave for 322 days” between 1993 and 1997. “This fact was an important consideration,” Home Depot wrote, “because a supervisor must be in the store to manage the associates in his department as well as the department itself.” Smith says that the Department of Veterans Affairs conducted its own investigation of the affair, and concluded that Home Depot violated Smith’s rights. “I truly do not think that it is fair for me to fulfill my military commitment and obligation to the state of Maryland and the U.S. Army and be punished because I chose to do so…Soldiers should not have to choose between their civilian occupation and their military career.” Smith adds: “I have suffered greatly during this entire ordeal…Because of this companies’ actions, I have lost nine years of my life.” In the Home Depot employee guide, workers are told that they have the right to an unapid military leave of absence if they are ordered to report for active duty or training. Home Depot says that if such military leave extends for more than 30 days at a time, you lose your company health plan, but can re-enroll for such coverage within 31 days of return to work. “When you return from a military leave,” the guide says, “you generally will be restored to your original — or an equivalent — position with equivalent pay, benefits and other employment terms. You cannot lose any employment benefit earned before the start of your military leave.” Home Depot’s policy says you won’t “lose” any benefit, but it doesn’t say you will be prevented from “gaining” any promotion either. But Smith says that’s what happened to him, that because he was a “citizen soldier”, he was passed over for job promotion. “Despite his qualifications,” says Smith’s lawsuit, “(he) was denied these positions. Other less qualified non-uniformed services persons were promoted to these positions.” The lawsuit claims that Home Depot’s actions amounted to “disparate treatment” of Smith, and “invidious, intentional discrimination..due solely to (his) obligations to perform military service.” Smith says such treatment violates his civil rights. Smith is seeking compensatory damages from Home Depot for lost wages and benefits, and other damages under federal law.
Home Depot promises to treat each of its employees with “respect and dignity”. “We know that mistakes will be made along the way,” Home Depot admits, “(but) when they do occur, we pledge to correct them honestly, quickly and effectively”. Smith is hoping that Home Depot will correct the mistake that he feels has severely damaged his career at Home Depot, and penalized him for serving his nation. For further information on Captain Smith vs. Home Depot USA, contact Attorney Joseph Mallon, Jr. in Baltimore, MD at 410-727-7887.