Outten & Golden client Lt. Ziober, Gretchen Carlson, and Members of Congress Introduce Legislation to Protect Workers from Forced Arbitration at Work
Today, Outten & Golden's client Lieutenant Kevin Ziober joined former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, Senators Al Franken, Richard Blumenthal, Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Sheldon Whitehouse and other Members of Congress in speaking out against unfair, forced arbitration agreements and in support of the Arbitration Fairness Act and the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act.
Lieutenant Ziober, a Navy reservist, was fired the day before his deployment to Afghanistan, and was told by his employer, BLB Resources, that he would have no job to return to after serving his country. After filing suit in a federal court in California in 2014, Ziober was told by the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit that he would be forced to arbitrate his claims under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Later this month, Ziober will ask the Supreme Court to hear his case and hold that servicemembers and veterans cannot be forced to arbitrate their USERRA claims.
Senator Blumenthal said that he was introducing the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act to protect Ziober and other servicemembers and veterans against forced arbitration, and announced that he intends to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court to support Ziober's case.
Lieutenant Ziober was joined at the press conference by his attorney, Peter Romer-Friedman of Outten & Golden LLP.
Statement of Lieutenant Kevin Ziober
- As a reservist, a combat veteran, and a private citizen, I want to sincerely thank Senator Franken, Senator Blumenthal, and other members of Congress for your efforts to protect the rights of workers and servicemembers from arbitration agreements that take away our Constitutional rights.
- The issue of arbitration has become very personal to me.
- In July 2010, I was hired as a manager by BLB Resources, a federal contractor in Irvine, California. From 2010 to 2012, I helped BLB grow from 18 employees to over 90.
- About six months into my employment at BLB, I was required to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of keeping my job. Like other employees who needed their jobs to make ends meet, I felt I had no choice but to sign the Agreement.
- In the Fall of 2012, I received active duty orders to deploy to Afghanistan for 12 months as a Reservist.
- I immediately informed my employer that I would soon be deployed and that I wanted to return to my job after my military duty was over.
- I felt confident that this would not be a problem because of the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act, commonly known as USERRA.
- Since the 1940s, federal law has guaranteed reservists the right to take military leave and return to their civilian jobs after their military duty is over, and USERRA is the latest law that provides those important protections.
- On my last day of work at BLB, I was greeted by my colleagues with a standing round of applause. My office was decorated with camouflage netting and balloons. Cards and gifts were stacked on my desk.
- At noon, my employer held a surprise party in my honor, where 40 of my co-workers gathered to wish me well on my deployment. There was even a large cake with an American flag decorated in red, white, and blue, with the inscription “Best Wishes Kevin.”
- Around 4:45 that same afternoon, I was summoned into a meeting with BLB's Human Resources department where I was summarily fired and told my position would not be available upon my return from active duty.
- The shock of learning I was being terminated from my job – on the eve of my deployment to a combat zone – created an unimaginable amount of concern and anxiety about how I would earn a living when I returned.
- No service member who is asked to fight for their country should ever need to worry about fighting for their job when they return home from war.
- When my deployment ended in the spring of 2014, I was further surprised when I filed a lawsuit to enforce my federal rights under USERRA.
- It was surprising because BLB’s arbitration agreement did not mention anything about USERRA claims. I was also surprised, because when Congress enacted USERRA in 1994, it expressly stated service members cannot waive “any right or benefit” under this law, and that arbitration cannot be “required.”
- But before my case could be heard by a federal judge, BLB Resources invoked the arbitration agreement, and the district court said I was required to arbitrate my USERRA claims.
- I appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but they also held I would be forced to arbitrate my USERRA case—a ruling in direct contravention to the intent of Congress when it enacted USERRA.
- USERRA is one of the strongest federal civil rights laws — in both the substantive and the procedural rights it gives servicemembers.
- For example servicemembers can file suit anywhere in the country where their employer is located; they can’t be charged fees and costs; and there are no time limits to file a claim.
- But arbitration agreements routinely take away these rights, and even worse, arbitration agreements silence the voices of veterans and servicemembers by forcing them to confidentially litigate their cases behind closed doors.
- Later this month, I will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear my case—not just for me, but for the millions of American veterans and servicemembers whose service is made possible by USERRA and who are protected by this law.
- I hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear my case and uphold the original intent of Congress protecting servicemembers against arbitration agreements.
- At the same time, Congress can and should pass legislation to fix this problem.
- I’d like to thank Senator Blumenthal and Franken for introducing bipartisan legislation to clarify that servicemembers and veterans cannot be required to arbitrate their claims.
- I’d also like to thank more than 30 national veterans service organizations that have called on Congress to enact this vitally important legislation.
- I also understand that today Senator Franken and other members of Congress are introducing the Arbitration Fairness Act, and I hope that there will be strong bipartisan support for this bill.
- Too many workers are required to sign arbitration agreements and give up their rights simply to get a job or keep their job. I know first hand how difficulty that is.
- With the Arbitration Fairness Act, no worker will be forced to choose between waiving his civil rights and providing for his family.
- Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and my views.