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It is unsurprising that under federal law, military servicemembers have the right to resume their civilian jobs when their service ends. But servicepeople also enjoy a right that most civilians don’t: The right to be placed not in the same position they held when their employment was interrupted, but the position they would have attained absent their military service.

This right underlies The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which guarantees that an individual who leaves his job for military service cannot be denied any “benefit of employment” as a result of that service, and a recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Dale H. was a pilot for FedEx Express when he was called up for Air Force Reserve duty in February 2003, during the Gulf War.  Dale had piloted Boeing 727 aircraft, but just prior to his deployment had been selected for training as a first officer to fly MD-11 aircraft, at a higher pay grade.

Upon his return from service in late 2006, Dale resumed his FedEx job and successfully completed the MD-11 training, becoming an MD-11 First Officer in February 2007.

Several months before Dale returned to FedEx, the company and the pilots’ union had negotiated a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) whereby FedEx pilots than on “active pay status” would receive signing bonuses applicable to their pay grade, including employees on military leave.

Upon Dale’s return, he received the 727 pilot’s bonus of $7,400. He sued FedEx under USERRA, claiming he should have been paid the $17,700 bonus received by MD-11 pilots, which was denied him only as a result of his military service. Dale argued that but for his deployment, he would have completed his originally scheduled MD-11 training and been eligible for a signing bonus at that pay grade under the terms of the CBA. Continue reading ›

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