The Justice Department has filed suit in federal court against Walmart, Inc., alleging the company violated the law by refusing to hire a reservist because of her upcoming annual two-week training.

According to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Colorado, Lindsey Hunger, a petty officer 3rd class in the Navy Reserve, applied for a part-time job with the Walmart on Rimrock Avenue in Grand Junction, Colorado in May, 2016. She was contacted by the story’s personnel coordinator about a part-time seasonal position.

After they discussed the details of the position, Hunger told the personnel coordinator that she would have to take two weeks off for her annual training. The coordinator responded “that summer was a busy time at Walmart, the store needed someone who would be there, and Walmart could not support Hunger’s absence for two weeks,” according to the complaint.

At that point, the personnel coordinator ended the call, “stating that she could not hire Hunger,” according to the complaint.

Justice Department officials contend Walmart violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act by denying initial employment to Hunger because of her military service. “Hunger’s military service and obligation to serve was a ‘motivating factor’ in Walmart’s decision not to hire her,” the lawsuit stated.

The complaint asks for damages in the form of lost wages and other benefits.

“Service members risk their lives to protect all of us. They deserve our full support, and the law does not permit employers to use military service as a reason to deny service members jobs and other employment opportunities,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division, in an announcement of the filing. He added that the Justice Department will continue to aggressively enforce USERRA and other federal laws that protect service members.

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and the allegations being made are extremely disturbing," Walmart officials said in a statement to Military Times. “We have policies and training in place to help ensure we are compliant with all laws, including USERRA.

“We take this seriously and will respond with the court as appropriate.”

Walmart is one of the largest employers of both active military and veterans, officials said. “At any given time, Walmart has several thousand associates on military leave of absence. In 2012, Walmart signed a Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve and we remain committed to our military members.”

During the Department of Labor’s investigation of Hunger’s claim, the personnel coordinator told an investigator she didn’t recall having any conversations with Hunger, according to the lawsuit.

At the time Hunger applied for the job, she was a full-time college student studying to become an elementary school teacher. She needed the job to pay for basic necessities, including supporting her two young children. She was receiving public assistance at the time and was required to document her job search, giving officials a reason why she was rejected by Walmart. When she called the personnel coordinator to confirm that Walmart was not hiring her because of her Reserve training, Hunger also told her she was violating her USERRA rights. The personnel coordinator “responded that she did not know what USERRA was.”

By that time, in 2016, Walmart’s policy prohibiting refusing to hire a person because of veteran status had been in place since at least 2011, according to the complaint.

Walmart has taken a number of steps to support military members, reservists and spouses, including hiring initiatives. Since 2008, Walmart has offered differential pay, so that if an employee’s military salary while they are on a military leave of absence is less than what they were making at Walmart, the company will pay them the difference. That was expanded to include basic training in 2017.

Hunger has completed college and is now a full-time elementary school teacher.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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