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7th Circuit Says Military Leave Must Be Equal to Sick Leave

Eric White worked as a commercial airline pilot for United Airlines (UA). He is also a reservist with the United States Air Force. The Air Force requires reservists to attend military training sessions periodically to maintain readiness should they need to be called up to serve. During his employment, White periodically took days off without pay to meet his military commitment. Under the collective bargaining agreement with UA, pilots receive pay while serving on jury duty and when taking sick leave. Pilots earn shares of UA profit based on the hours they work. Jury duty and sick leave count as credit toward that profit, while military leave does not.

White brought suit against UA under the Uniformed Services Employee and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which requires employers to provide military employees on military leave the “rights and benefits” given to nonmilitary employees.

For the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the essential question before it was whether paid leave is one of the “rights and benefits” of employment. Parsing the language of the statute and tenets of statutory interpretation very carefully, the circuit court concluded the definition of “rights and benefits” would apply to paid leave. The court sent the case back to the district court to determine whether “any leave of absence” that the employer subsidizes is comparable to military leave, irrespective of its duration. The circuit court lacked knowledge of the frequency and duration of the leaves at UA. The court dismissed UA’s assertion that jury duty differed from military leave because the former is mandatory whereas joining the military is voluntary. The court focused on the fact that reservists do not have any choice in when they must train.