Military reservists won a major victory in court on Friday when a federal jury unanimously ruled in favor of an NYPD Captain and experienced U.S. Army pilot who was denied assignment to the NYPD Aviation Unit based on his military reserve status.
"The Police Department, Fire Department and private employers need to make sure reservists’ employment rights are not infringed upon," said Margaret Mayo, attorney for Captain John Cardona.
The jury deliberated for one hour on Thursday and for two hours on Friday before finding that the city of New York had discriminated against Cardona and awarded him $17,000 in "flight time compensation," according to Mayo.
Cardona, 42, trained to fly Black Hawks and Hueys at the U.S. Army flight school in 1990. He flew MediVac and search and rescue helicopters for the U.S. Army for four years following the training.
In 1995, Cardona applied to the NYPD Aviation Unit but was denied a position because of his reservist status. The aviation officers who interviewed him said he might be "away too much" on reserve duty, according to Mayo.
Cardona reapplied several times between 1995 and 2003 but was never granted another interview. In 2004, he was promoted to NYPD Captain, at which point he could no longer serve in the Aviation Unit because the unit’s only commanding officer position was already filled.
Cardona sued the city of New York in 2004 for violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), a law that prohibits employment discrimination based on military status.
The NYPD acknowledged the jury decision, but, according to a spokesperson, the police department had not discriminated against Cardona in terms of his promotion track to captain.
"The jury was persuaded that he didn’t get his preferred assignment," the spokesperson said, "but the jury also found no wrongdoing on the part of the current aviation unit."
The Aviation Unit is based at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and responds to various emergencies and tasks, supporting Patrol as well as other units of the NYPD, according to its website.