Employment discrimination is not always about an immutable characteristic like race or sex. There are other classes of individuals protected from adverse employment actions, including members of our armed forces. The federal Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) bans employment discrimination based on a person's past or present military service. Among other things, this means that a civilian employer may not fire, refuse to hire, discipline, or demote an employee because he or she may need time off from work to go on active military duty.
NYC School Faces Trial Over Dismissal of Army Reservist
According to a recent ruling by a federal appeals court in New York, it is also possible to illegally discriminate against an employee under the USERRA even if he or she is not actually deployed. While the court's decision is not considered binding precedent, it nonetheless illustrates how judges examine employment discrimination claims based on military status.
The plaintiff in this case worked as an assistant principal at a high school in New York City. The plaintiff simultaneously served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves. He accused the city school system of illegal discrimination when his employment was terminated at the instigation of the school's principal.
The plaintiff alleged that his firing was motivated, at least in part, by the principal's objections to his military service. A trial court held that the plaintiff's claims were without merit and granted the city's motion for summary judgment. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that was premature, as the plaintiff at least presented a plausible claim from which a jury could find the principal violated his rights under the USERRA.
Specifically, the plaintiff said that when he informed the principal of his “possible” deployment overseas, she reacted harshly, stating, “How can you do that to me?” and indicated that he was leaving a “mess” for her to clean up. If true, the Second Circuit said this could be construed as the principal “personalizing the deployment as something [the plaintiff] was doing to her rather than a legal obligation imposed on them both.”
In addition, the plaintiff presented evidence that showed he had received satisfactory performance ratings during his first three years at the school, but after notifying the principal of his deployment, “he received an unsatisfactory rating and three disciplinary letters,” which were the ostensible basis for his termination.
In response, the school argued that “any inference of discrimination” by the principal “is negated” by the fact the plaintiff was never actually deployed. But the Second Circuit said that based on the plaintiff's arguments, a jury could find the principal retaliated against him because of the mere “prospect” of losing him to deployment.
Have You Experienced Job Discrimination as a Military Veteran?
Members of the armed forces put their lives on the line for us every day. The law honors their service and sacrifice by ensuring they will be able to return to their civilian jobs once their deployment ends. If you have faced illegal discrimination due to your military record, an experienced New York employment law attorney can help. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today in New York City or Long Island if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.