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Supreme Court rules veterans can file lawsuits against state agencies

Supreme Court rules veterans can file lawsuits against state agencies
Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers salutes as motorcyclists pass during Rolling Thunder, the annual Memorial Day weekend motorcycle rally for veterans, prisoners of war and service members, that draws hundreds of thousands of participants, in Washington, D.C., on May 26, 2019. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that state agencies can face private lawsuits under a federal law that protects employment rights of returning veterans. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

June 29 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that state agencies can face private lawsuits under a federal law that protects employment rights of returning veterans.

The court ruled 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the three liberals on the bench.

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The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 gives returning service members the right to reclaim their prior jobs with state employers. The act also allows them to file a lawsuit if those employers refuse to accommodate veterans' service-related disabilities.

The case involved a former member in the Army Reserves.

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Le Roy Torres was called up to active duty in 2007 and deployed to Iraq. Torres suffered permanent health damage after being exposed to toxic burn pits and upon returning home, was unable to return to work in his previous job as a state trooper. He asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to accommodate his respiratory condition and find another position for him. The department refused, leading to the lawsuit.

Torres sued the department under the 1994 act but lost at the lower court levels. Texas tried to dismiss the suit by invoking sovereign immunity.

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"Upon entering the Union, the States implicitly agreed that their sovereignty would yield to federal policy to build and keep a national military. States thus gave up their immunity from congressionally authorized suits," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the court's majority opinion.

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"Texas' contrary view would permit States to thwart national military readiness. We need not stray from the statute at hand to see the danger of this approach. If a State - or even 25 States -decided to protest a war by refusing to employ returning service members, Congress, on Texas' telling, would be powerless to authorize private reinstatement suits against those States," Breyer wrote, adding that powerlessness could have a "potentially debilitating effect."

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