Army reservist fired after serving company and country

SEATTLE -- Army reservist Curtis Kirk takes his responsibilities as a father, employee, and soldier very seriously.

"We don't just serve the company or the customers, we serve the country," Kirk said.

So when the 34-year old Washington National Guardsman returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom to find his job filled, he was knocked down but not done fighting.

"They had somebody else already in my position. I didn't want to take the job away from somebody so I took what they gave me. And I thought okay, as long as they pay me $11 an hour like I was making," he said.

Kirk says All Battery Sales and Service of Everett replaced his sales job in 2010 with a position that required fewer hours and received no commission, which meant hundreds of dollars less a month.

He said he repeatedly asked if there were any opening at his old job, and ABS kept saying no.

Kirk only had his salesman job four months before being called to duty as a combat engineer. He drove in armored vehicles, guarding equipment in civilian trucks. He oversaw electronic warfare systems in vehicles.

He said one day he jumped down from his vehicle and landed on his knee. It hasn't worked right since. Kirk refused to leave Iraq and was hospitalized upon his return to Washington. He said he warned his bosses that it would take awhile to rehabilitate his leg.

After a week back at work lifting 200 pound batteries, he ran into trouble at work.

"They said I was moving too slow," Kirk said.

ABS let him go, and he tried for months to find work with no luck. Depression kicked in and anger festered.

"I started to doubt everything. My leg had gotten worse. I was sitting on the couch writhing in pain, angry at everything, cursing my body for failing," he said.

His family finally pushed him into taking legal action.

"If it wasn't for my family saying you need to stop and not roll over, be the soldier that you were and that you are, I doubt I would have done anything. I'd be like the hundreds and thousands who sit and let bad things happen to them," he said.

"They said somebody else had taken his job while he was away and that's not right under USERRA (The Uniformed Services Employment And Reemployment Act," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Diaz.

The statute grants service members the right to return to the job they would have had if they had never left. Kirk had worked in his position only four months before being called to action, but Diaz said that doesn't matter.

"Under USERRA clear as day, it doesn't matter," he said. "You held that position and that's important because service members are sometimes called up involuntarily and they need to know, no matter where they are in their career, they'll be able to jump back on the career ladder."

ABS settled out of court and agreed to pay Kirk $37,500. The South Everett company's attorney, Steve Goldstein, said ABS, "Denies any fault, denies did anything wrong, appreciates his serves and aware of statute and felt complied with it."

Goldstein said ABS felt Kirk received an equivalent position and settled because it cost less than litigation.

Kirk is pleased that part of the settlement requires ABS to train its staff on USERRA rights and employer obligations. He said that means more than the money.

Kirk beamed and sat up straight in his camouflage uniform and said, "All the gold in Fort Knox, all the money printed by the Treasury has never been enough and can never pay me enough than it is to wear this uniform."