A North Carolina school allegedly demoted an Army reservist from dean to gym teacher while he was on active duty


WARRENTON, North Carolina — The U.S. Department of Justice has, once again, sued the Warren County Board of Education in North Carolina over its treatment of a military reservist.

U.S. attorneys said the complaint, filed Wednesday, is meant to protect the rights guaranteed to U.S. Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Coffer, by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 1994 legislation signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.

They allege that the Warren school system stripped Coffer of his position as dean of students at Warren County Middle School in the summer of 2017 while he was away for about five weeks of active duty. Instead of putting him back in the job, the system offered him a position as a gym teacher.

The 1994 law protects the rights of uniformed service members to retain their civilian jobs following absences because of military service obligations, officials in U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon's office said.

"The freedoms we enjoy as Americans are dependent on the selfless duties performed by members of our Armed Forces," said Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department's civil rights division in Washington. "When our country calls service-members to duty, its laws, enforced by the Department of Justice, protect their civilian jobs."

The complaint seeks a court order forcing the system to reinstate Coffer into "the position he had before he left for military service," or an equivalent one, and give him back pay and other benefits.

Wednesday's lawsuit is the second dispute over Coffer's employment that's prompted federal action against the Warren system. The first yielded a 2013 settlement that forced officials to rehire him as a lead teacher or site supervisor.

The Justice Department under former President Barack Obama alleged the Warren schools ousted Coffer as an assistant principal in 2008 because "staff members expressed frustration at accommodating his military service during the school year," federal officials said in announcing the 2013 settlement.

Coffer, who has served in the Army Reserves for more than 26 years, currently serves in the 2nd Battalion, 317th Regiment, which is based in Lynchburg, Va., according to the factual allegations portion of the complaint.

During the "relevant times" of the latest dispute and through the present day, Coffer held and still holds a N.C. professional educator's school administrator/principal license, the lawsuit filed by appointees of President Donald Trump said.

The suit alleges that on Aug. 8, 2017, during the first day of school for students at Warren County Middle School and while Coffer was away on military orders still, Coffer got a telephone call from Jamar Perry, who was Warren County Schools' personnel director.

Coffer was informed the school board had eliminated his position as dean of students and he would be offered reemployment as a physical education teacher at the Northside K-8 School when he returned from military service.

He hadn't received any prior notice that his position was to be removed before this telephone call, the civil complaint said.

Coffer asked about other administrative positions to which he could be assigned, but was told that while vacancies existed, it was "too late" for him to apply for any of them.

There were "at least" three administrator jobs — for two principals and an assistant principal — available for the 2017-18 school year while Coffer was on military leave in 2017 and that the school board filled in the summer of 2017, the complaint said.

In the summer of 2017, Coffer received orders for military service to be performed between July 10 and Aug. 21. He left for duty July 10 that year and before the start of the school year gave notice of his military service through email to his supervisor and others, the complaint alleged.

Further, he has never worked as a physical education teacher for the school board, nor is a physical education teacher position equal to an administrator's position, it said.

Coffer responded by filing a USERRA claim with the U.S. Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service, which investigated.

On Aug. 23, 2017, a Labor Department investigator spoke with Warren County Schools Superintendent Ray Spain and "reiterated" Coffer's request to be reemployed as dean of students with a school or an equal position, the complaint said.

The next day, the investigator wrote the superintendent reiterating Coffer's request that the school board "restor[e] him to his past position or a position equivalent to that of the dean of students at the Warren County Public School System.

The school board has never offered to reemploy Coffer as a dean of students or an equal position, nor has Coffer gotten retirement credit from the school board "for the purposes of determining his retirement benefit since July 10, 2017," the Justice Department alleged.

To offset the financial damage, Coffer served in the military from March 24, 2018, to Aug. 22, 2018, and from Oct. 1, 2018, to the present. His current orders finished March 30 this year.

Warren County's settlement of the prior lawsuit specified that it was to avoid taking "any action against any person, including but not limited to Coffer, that constitutes retaliation or interference with the exercise of such person's rights under USERRA."

While speaking with the Dispatch Thursday, Lewis Thompson, the school board's attorney, said he wouldn't have any comment because he hasn't seen the complaint yet.


©2019 Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C.. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

SEE ALSO: Veteran Sues University Of Toledo For Allegedly Disclosing Ptsd And Portraying Him As A Safety Threat

U.S. Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Coffer (U.S. Army photo)

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

Read More Show Less