In a case involving the Baltimore Police Department, the Supreme Court asked the Bush administration yesterday whether employers ever should be permitted to bar their workers from joining or serving in the military reserves.
The court wants to hear Justice Department lawyers' views on a ruling that struck down the Police Department's policy of limiting the number of employees allowed to be in active reserve units.
At issue is whether the Veterans' Re-employment Rights Act gives employees an absolute right to join the reserves and an absolute entitlement to time off to fulfill reserve training obligations.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case last March against any interference by an employer with a worker's joining or serving in the reserves.
The ruling is binding for employers in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. But other federal courts have said employers need not honor a request for a leave to serve in the reserves if it is unreasonable.
Eric Kolkhorst became a Baltimore policeman in 1982. He had served in the Marine Corps Ready Reserve, as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve.
All Ready Reserve members may be called to active duty in a war or national emergency, but Individual Ready Reserve members have no training obligations.
When Officer Kolkhorst began his police job, he was an Individual Ready Reserve member.
The Police Department had limited to 100 the number of police officers permitted to join an active military reserve unit because activation of the local reserve would deplete the department's manpower.
Officer Kolkhorst joined a Selected Reserve unit and was ordered to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1986. The Police Department told him to quit the active reserves. He quit but sued.
A federal judge ruled last year that Officer Kolkhorst must be allowed to join the active reserve unit and ordered the department to pay him $4,164 in damages.
The 4th Circuit Court upheld that ruling.