June 29, 2022

Congressman Castro Celebrates Victory for Captain Le Roy Torres in Supreme Court Case on Re-Employment Rights of Disabled Veterans

WASHINGTON — Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) released the following statement after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Captain Le Roy Torres in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, a case concerning the civilian job rights of servicemembers and veterans under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA):

“For nearly a decade, Captain Le Roy Torres and his wife Rosie have been fighting to protect the rights of disabled servicemembers to return to civilian life. Today, their strength and persistence have changed the course of history.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling makes clear that disabled veterans can pursue legal action against state employers who fail to provide the reasonable accommodations guaranteed by federal law.  This ruling is a victory for all veterans, but it should not take a years-long legal battle to compel the government of Texas to respect their service and sacrifice.

“As we celebrate this victory, Congress needs to take the next step to protect veterans like Captain Torres who were injured by toxic burn pits. In March, I voted to pass the Honoring Our PACT Act to help 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service. Right now, technicalities are preventing the bill from becoming law. In the wake of today’s decision, I urge Congressional negotiators to put veterans first, put politics aside, and send the Honoring Our PACT Act to the President’s desk. America’s veterans put their lives on the line, and we have an obligation to stand up for them like they stood up for us.”

USERRA protects disabled veterans, requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate their disability, and entitles veterans and servicemembers to return to civilian employment upon completion of their service with the same status, seniority, and rate of pay that they would have obtained if they had remained continuously employed by their civilian employer. The statute also authorizes lawsuits against a civilian employer – including a state and local government employer – if the employer discriminates against an individual based on their military service. USERRA’s cause of action against state employers may only be pursued in state courts.

After returning from service in Iraq with a lung injury caused by exposure to toxic burn pits, Army Captain Le Roy Torres requested reasonable accommodations to continue his work at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Instead, the Department denied his request and forced him to resign. Torres then sued the department under USERRA. A Texas appellate court later ruled that USERRA’s cause of action was unconstitutional because Congress lacks the power to authorize lawsuits against non-consenting states.

After Captain Torres appealed the case to the Supreme Court, Congressman Castro led a letter to then-acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar asking the Department of Justice to file a brief urging the Supreme Court to grant review of the case, reverse the lower court’s decision, and affirm Congress’s broad authority to legislate in support of its War Powers.

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Congressman Castro led an amicus brief supporting Captain Torres’s argument that USERRA provides a valid cause of action against nonconsenting states under the War Powers granted to Congress in the Constitution. The brief argued that ensuring returning servicemembers have access to uniform workplace remedies — no matter where they live — strengthens American war-readiness and repays our immense debt to veterans for their sacrifice in service of the United States.

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court held that “by ratifying the Constitution, the States agreed their sovereignty would yield to the national power to raise and support the Armed Forces. Congress may exercise this power to authorize private damages suits against nonconsenting States, as in USERRA.”