Everett company defends reservist’s firing

EVERETT — The south Everett battery company that fired an Army reservist more than a year after he returned from Iraq had reason to do so, said its general manager.

Chuck Allen, of All Battery Sales and Service, said he doesn’t understand why the U.S. Department of Justice painted a picture of unlawfulness on the part of the company. The Justice Department released a statement earlier this week about the settlement of the lawsuit, which alleged that the company failed to properly rehire the reservist.

“It’s incredibly misleading,” Allen said. “We made the decision to settle because it was far cheaper than the cost of litigating. Had we fought the lawsuit, we believe we would have won.”

In fact, All Battery Sales and Service denies any liability in the matter as part of the settlement document signed by the company and approved Wednesday by federal District Court.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Diaz said that it was the company and its lawyers that made the decision to settle.

“They are entitled to feel how ever they want to feel,” Diaz said. “But the fact is they settled for monetary damages and agreed to a required training for company officials on the rights of military service members.” Under the terms of the settlement, the company must pay Curtis Kirk, the reservist, $37,500 to compensate him for lost or reduced wages and benefits, Justice Department officials said.

Kirk could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleged that All Battery unlawfully demoted and then terminated Kirk’s employment without proper cause. It’s a position the Justice Department stands by, Diaz said.

Kirk worked for All Battery for about two months at the company’s front counter before he was deployed, Allen said.

When Kirk returned from his overseas service, the company assigned him, at his previous wage, to make deliveries of battery products in a company van, Allen said. He was in line to receive commissions, too, but he did not do well in the job and was moved to a warehouse position, still at the same rate of pay, Allen said. Thirteen months after he was rehired, and after several warnings about his job performance from his supervisor, Kirk was fired, Allen said.

“His supervisor is an Army combat veteran who was wounded in Bosnia,” Allen said. “We have employees who have been with us more than 30 years. We are a 34-year-old, family-owned company and we try to be good citizens and a good employer. We have voluntarily jumped the car batteries of Navy sailors returning to Everett from long deployments.”

The lawsuit alleged the battery company violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which requires that a person with a long absence for military service who is reemployed cannot be fired within one year after returning to the job, except for just cause.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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