North Carolina

NC middle school will reinstate dean demoted to gym teacher while serving in the Army

Command Sergeant Major Dwayne Coffer
Command Sergeant Major Dwayne Coffer U.S. Army

The dean of a North Carolina middle school went on active duty with the U.S. military and found his job gone when he got back. Now he’s being reinstated.

U.S. Department of Justice officials said Thursday that the Warren County Board of Education agreed to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of Dwayne Coffer, a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army Reserves who was reportedly demoted to a gym teacher after his return.

Coffer will be reinstated as dean of students at Warren County Middle School, nearly 60 miles north of Raleigh, and will receive back pay and pension benefits as part of the deal, court documents show.

“This settlement agreement with Warren County resolves the (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) claims brought by the United States and serves as a reminder that our service members, like CSM Coffer, deserve fair and lawful reemployment following their returns from active military duty,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

According to the Justice Department’s April complaint, Coffer was called up for a six-week active-duty service period in July and August 2017.

When he returned home, officials said his position as dean had been eliminated and an offer of re-employment as a gym teacher stood in its place. Coffer had not reportedly been a gym teacher for at least 15 years prior and never in Warren County.

Justice Department officials said such a demotion violates USERRA, which protects military members’ jobs while they are serving.

Warren County has not admitted to that violation under the terms of the deal but did agree to future compliance.

In addition to being reinstated for the 2019-2020 school year under a two-year administrator contract, the settlement permits that Coffer’s pension and health benefits as well as his sick and personal leave days be restored.

Coffer will also receive $25,000 in back pay, settlement documents show.

Officials said this is the second such settlement for Warren County, which the Justice Department sued in 2012 for reportedly failing to renew Coffer’s employment contract after a different period of military service.

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Hayley is a Real Time reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking news and trending stories in the Carolinas. She also created the Observer’s unofficial bird beat (est. 2015) with a summer full of ornithological-related content, including a story about Barred Owls in love.