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Is A Military or Service Member Entitled To Pay For Military Leave?

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A Federal Court of Appeals sitting in Chicago recently became the first federal appeals court in the country to decide that paid leave falls within the set of “rights and benefits” defined by the Uniformed Services Employee and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

In White v. United Airlines, Inc., the plaintiff Eric White was a commercial airline pilot who also served as a member of the United States Air Force on reserve duty. As a reservist, Mr. White took periods of short-term military leave in order to attend military training sessions. United did not pay Mr. White for these leave periods.

United compensated pilots who exercised their rights to other types of leave, however. Under United’s collective bargaining agreement, pilots received pay for short-term absences for jury duty or sick leave. Pilots also earned credit under United’s profit sharing plan for such leave time. But pilots taking military leave received neither wages, nor credits under the profit sharing plan.

Mr. White brought a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, alleging that United violated USERRA by failing to provide paid leave and profit-sharing-plan credit to reservists on military leave, thereby denying reservists “rights and benefits” that United provided for comparable, non-military leaves. After the District Court dismissed the lawsuit, Mr. White appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

On February 3, 2021, the Federal Appeals Court reversed the District Court, holding that USERRA’s mandate that military leave be accorded the same “rights and benefits” as comparable, non-military leave requires an employer to provide paid military leave to the same extent that it provides paid leave for other absences, such as jury duty and sick leave.

If you have questions about your rights under USERRA or other employment laws, you should consult and experienced employee rights attorney such as Benjamin King of Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. Attorney King has been ranked in the top 5% of lawyers in New England representing employees in employment discrimination cases, continuously since 2014. Attorney King can be reached at (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.