Company founded in Park City embroiled in legal battle
May 15, 2015
A legal battle has erupted between a company formerly headquarted in Park City and its ex-president who alleges he was fired for his military service.
The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division filed a complaint this week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Paul Costello, a Naval Reserve captain, against Veterans Trading Company, which was based in Park City until 2013. According to the complaint, the company violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA), which grants the right for uniformed service members to be reemployed in their civilian jobs following their service.
Costello’s lawsuit claims Veterans Trading Company fired him in July 2013 due to his military service and later denied his application for reemployment when his service was completed in September of that year.
"Members of our National Guard and Reserves make many sacrifices, including spending months or years away from their jobs and families," said U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen, in a press release. "When our service members are deployed in the service of our country, they are entitled to retain their civilian employment and to the protections of federal law that prevent them from being subject to discrimination based upon their military obligations. We are filing suit on behalf of Captain Costello, a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, to ensure that he does not lose his rights while he was protecting ours."
Jeffrey Brown, president of Veterans Trading Company, which was founded in Park City in 2005 but moved its headquarters to Florida in 2013, denied Costello’s claims. Brown said in an interview with The Park Record that Costello hid his military service from the company to continue to draw a paycheck. The company’s policy is to allow employees to go on active duty and return when their service is completed, but they are not paid during that time.
"(Costello’s claims) are very far from the truth," Brown said. "In fact, VTC was completely unaware that Mr. Costello was on active duty at that time until nearly three months after the incident. He could have told us the same day and said, ‘Hey guys, I’m on active duty.’ But he didn’t."
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Veterans Trading Company filed a Utah State civil lawsuit in April alleging fraudulent non-disclosure against Costello. Brown said the company is seeking repayment of money it claims it paid Costello during his service.
"He decided to fraudulently take money and conceal the fact he was on active duty," Brown said. "Our opinion is he’s trying to hide behind USERRA to further gain some money or protection or whatever."
Brown added that the company, which is owned by veterans, has allowed several other employees time off for active duty.
"We have a long history of supporting veterans," he said. "On several occasions, we’ve had reservists called up, and they’ve been welcomed back with open arms and reinstated. They followed their obligations and notified us."
According to a press release, Costello’s lawsuit seeks damages for lost wages and other benefits, as well as the return of ownership shares he had in the company.
"The brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces should never have to fear losing their job while they’re deployed overseas," said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery in the release. "That’s why the Department of Justice is committed to protecting the employment rights of service members and we will continue to devote time and resources to hold bad actors accountable."
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