Of the vast edifice of federal laws that now control the terms of private employment, one of the less discussed is a 1994 enactment called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), under which employees who participate in the military are made a protected class in private employment. Writes Jon Hyman: “An individual claiming discrimination under USERRA need only prove that military service was a ‘motivating factor’ in the adverse action — which may rely on circumstantial evidence (including suspicious timing, statements, or behavior) that creates a ‘convincing mosaic’ from which a reasonable jury could infer discriminatory motive.”
Hyman discusses the recent case of Arroyo v. Volvo Group North America, in which managers expressed admiration but also “frustration” at an employee’s resort to “frequent military leave” in situations where, they believed, her army reserve obligations would have been consistent with taking less time off the job. Eventually it dismissed her on attendance grounds.
Last month the Seventh Circuit overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the case, citing, as “anti-military animus,” managers’ concerns about what they perceived as her overuse of the leave, and its disruptive effects on work. “Animus” as a word here, of course, hardly carries the connotation of prejudice, spite, or hostility that frequently attach to that word. It is more like an confusing leftover from the days when federal employment law made it its chief business to prohibit invidious discrimination, rather than, as now, to enforce affirmative accommodation.