Eleventh Circuit Holds That Military Leave Is Comparable to Paid Administrative Leave Under USERRA
On June 8, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held in Myrick v. City of Hoover, Alabama that military leave is comparable to paid administrative leave under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
Military leave is comparable to paid administrative leave under USERRA, the Eleventh Circuit held.
USERRA requires employers to provide employees on military leave with the same rights and benefits provided to similarly situated employees on non-military leave.
The plaintiffs, who all had taken military-related leave, sued their municipal employer under USERRA claiming disparate treatment because the city did not grant them the same benefits it provided for employees on paid administrative leave.
The court relied in part on the U.S. Department of Labor’s interpretation of USERRA, stating that it was irrelevant how an employer characterized an employee’s status (paid or unpaid) during a period of military service.
In finding for the employees, the court cited three factors as determinative—the duration of the leave, the purpose of the leave, and the ability of employees to choose when to take the leave.
The U.S. Congress enacted USERRA to mitigate the employment disadvantages that stem from non-career military service. Among the many obligations imposed by USERRA on employers, one section in particular—38 U.S.C. § 4316(b)(1)—requires employers to give employees on military leave the same rights and benefits provided to similarly situated employees on nonmilitary leave.
Thaddaeus Myrick and three other named plaintiffs were police officers for the City of Hoover, Alabama. All four took leaves of absence, for either military training or deployment, ranging from a few weeks to more than a year. Hoover offers 168 hours of paid military leave annually. Once employees exhaust those hours, they convert to unpaid status. Hoover also offers paid administrative leave to its employees. The policy permits employees paid administrative leave for various reasons, such as jury duty or formal city hearings, or for employees who are under internal investigation. As with military leave, these leaves of absence vary in length. Importantly, in 2012, Hoover placed one employee on paid investigative administrative leave for 599 days.
The plaintiffs sued Hoover under USERRA, claiming disparate treatment because the city did not give them the same benefits it gave employees on paid administrative leave, including paid leave in excess of 168 hours. The district court granted summary judgment for the officers. Hoover appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit.
The Eleventh Circuit’s Holding
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. First, the court rejected Hoover’s argument that the district court had mistakenly found the officers similar to employees on paid administrative leave, rather than employees on unpaid status and unpaid leave. Relying on the U.S. Department of Labor’s interpretation of the relevant portion of USERRA, the court found that it was “‘irrelevant’” how the employer characterized the employee’s status (paid or unpaid) during a period of military service.
Second, relying on three factors enumerated in 20 C.F.R. § 1002.150(b)—(1) the duration of the leave; (2) the purpose of the leave; and (3) the ability of employees to choose when to take the leave—the court found military leave to be comparable to paid administrative leave. With regard to the first factor, the Eleventh Circuit found compelling the fact that the city was willing to provide its employees with “up to around sixteen months” of paid administrative leave—“the same average length as the longest instances of military leave.” The court also found the purpose of both leaves of absence to be similar—“to shield employees from unnecessary hardship” and/or to comply with the law.
Finally, with regard to the third factor, the Eleventh Circuit found that “[t]he two forms of leave are similar in terms of control” in that “[m]ilitary employees do not control when they will be summoned for active-duty service, just as non-military employees do not control when Hoover will launch an investigation and place them on administrative leave.” Thus, the court held that the district court had properly granted summary judgment for the officers, and that Hoover had violated USERRA by not providing them “the same benefits on military leave that it afforded similar employees on paid administrative leave.”
The Myrick v. City of Hoover, Alabama holding highlights USERRA’s requirement for employers to provide the same rights and benefits—including paid leave—to employees on military leave that they provide to similarly situated employees on comparable forms of non-military leave. Employers, especially those that maintain paid administrative leave policies, may want to review their leave of absence policies for compliance with USERRA.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the Leaves of Absence blog as additional information becomes available.