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January 02, 2009
Was He Demoted for Military Service?

A longtime Illinois city accountant who also served in the Naval Reserves sued his employer for discriminating against him because of two tours of military duty. He claimed that the responsibilities he was given on both returns were demotions. Eventually, he sued.

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What happened. We use the word “eventually” because “Morgan” didn’t sue regarding his 1991 return until 2003. Then he also sued for what he felt was a demotion in 1997. Morgan joined the Naval Reserves in 1987 and went to work for Chicago’s Aviation Department in 1990. He was a certified public accountant who initially managed accounts receivable and was charged with automating the city’s fee determinations for airlines and concessionaires at O’Hare and Midway airports. The following year, he was called to duty in the first Gulf War, from which he returned 7 months later. He later alleged that his supervisor was unhappy about his tour, but records showed that he was given a raise of more than $6,000 on his return.

The following year, Morgan filed a complaint with the Department of Labor but withdrew it after several months. In 1993, the department was reorganized, and Morgan got a new job title that sounded less grand than his old ones—but he also received a raise of almost $5,500. In 1996, Morgan was again called to military duty, this time in Bosnia. On his return 9 months later, his supervisor initially refused to reinstate him to his former job until ordered to do so. Finally, Morgan was transferred to a different job and location in 1998.

When he finally sued in 2003 that his alleged demotions had violated his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a federal district court judge ruled his 1991 claims were too old to consider but sent the 1997 charge to a jury, which voted against him. He appealed to the 7th Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

What the court said. Appellate judges agreed with the district judge that Morgan had waited much too long to file suit for alleged mistreatment in 1991. They also noted that by 2007, when Morgan testified, his compensation was almost twice what it had been in 1993. They heard dozens of Morgan’s allegations about insults he’d received from bosses, along with lists of why he had seen various jobs as less responsible or prestigious than what he deserved. But they validated the district court’s actions, and Morgan lost again. Maher v. City of Chicago, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, No. 07-2911 (10/31/08).

Point to remember: Judges were no doubt influenced by Morgan’s periodic salary increases; it’s hard to see raises as adverse employment steps.

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