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Federal Court Determines Veteran Was Entitled to Higher Signing Bonus from Employer Upon Return from Service

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court ruled in an employment law case involving a military service member who claimed he received a lower signing bonus than he was entitled to receive upon his return from deployment. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss two employment law concepts that are important to those considering a New York employment discrimination case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was an employee of FedEx, and he was also a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves. The plaintiff was enrolled in a training program to become a first officer, which would make him a pay grade MD-11. However, prior to beginning the program, he was mobilized for active duty in the U.S. Air Force. The plaintiff returned to work about three months later.

While the plaintiff was away, FedEx had implemented a signing bonus program for eligible employees. The bonus was for either $7,400 or $17,700, depending on the employee’s pay grade. The plaintiff was provided a $7,400 bonus because, at the time, he had not obtained his MD-11 grade. Had he been an MD-11, he would have received a $17,700 bonus.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit, claiming that the only reason he was not an MD-11 was because he was mobilized for active duty in the U.S. Air Force. Indeed, the evidence suggested that the plaintiff had not failed any of his exams or practical tests.

The Court’s Opinion

The court applied two related legal doctrines in determining that the plaintiff was entitled to the larger bonus. First, the “escalator principle” provides that a returning service member cannot be removed from the “escalator” of his career path simply because he was on active duty. Thus, the court determined that FedEx should have assumed that the plaintiff would have completed his training and become an MD-11 for the purposes of the bonus.

The second principle is the “reasonable certainty test.” Under this doctrine, the court looks both forward and backward in analyzing the plaintiff’s position. First, the court considers whether it was reasonably certain, knowing what the employer knew before mobilization, whether the employee would ascend to a certain position. Second, the court considers whether the employee did obtain – or would have obtained – the same position but for his military service.

Here, the court applied both tests and determined that the employee was entitled to the larger of the two bonuses.

Have You Been Treated Unfairly in the Workplace?

Not all workplace discrimination is based on outward animus toward a certain class. In some cases, an employer’s interpretation of a policy is to save money or pad the bottom line. However, no form of discrimination is acceptable. The skilled New York employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Ira S. Newman have extensive experience handling a wide range of discrimination cases, and we know what it takes to succeed on our clients’ behalf. Call 800-206-7375 to schedule a free consultation with a New York employment discrimination attorney today.

See Additional Blog Posts:

New York Employers Will Soon Be Required to Provide Paid Family Leave, New York Business Litigation Attorney Blog, October 16, 2017.

New York City Landlord Busted for Housing Discrimination, New York Business Litigation Attorney Blog, October 25, 2017.