Grand Trunk Western Railroad Co. v. United States, No. 16-3304 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Employee stock options, when exercised, constitute compensation, on which the employer must remit taxes under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act. Beginning in 1996, the railway began including stock options in the compensation plans of some employees, taking the position that income from the exercise of those stock options was not a form of “money remuneration” that would be taxable to the railway under the Act, 26 U.S.C. 3231(e)(1), which defines “compensation” as “any form of money remuneration paid to an individual for services rendered as an employee.” The Act requires the railroad to pay an excise tax equal to a specified percentage of its employees’ wages, and to withhold a percentage of employee wages as their share of the tax. The railroad retirement tax rates are much higher than social security tax rates. The IRS, the district court, and the Seventh Circuit concluded that the exercise of the stock options was compensation. The equivalence of stock to cash is actually signaled in the statutory exceptions for qualified stock options and for other forms of noncash employee benefits.