Mass Firefighter and Justice Department sue Pittsfield for USERRA Violation.

Pittsfield firefighter Jeffrey Rawson and the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the City of Pittsfield under the  Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) alleging that the city discriminated and retaliated against Rawson by denying  him a promotion due to his military obligations as a Navy reservist.

The lawsuit claims that Rawson ranked second on a 2009 promotional list for lieutenant, but in September, 2010 was skipped in favor of a firefighter who ranked lower. The department allegedly cited military related absenteeism as grounds for bypassing Rawson.

Rawson filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (LDVE&TS) regarding the matter.  LDVE&TS investigated the issue and found that Rawson’s complaint was valid and referred the complaint to the Justice Department.

The lawsuit alleges that after filing the complaint with LDVE&TS the city retaliated against Rawson by not including him in the list of firefighters eligible to be acting lieutenants. Rawson also alleges his superiors directed hostility him, including comments that he needed to decide who he worked for, the Navy of the fire department.

The lawsuit seeks a retroactive promotion to lieutenant together with lost wages and benefits that Rawson would have received if promoted in 2010 and liquidated damages. Incidentally, USERRA prohibits discrimination against service personnel who are called to duty.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • John

    There is no excuse for this. The leadership of this Dept must lack significant knowledge on labor law. USERRA claims are usually tough to prove, as most employers are smart enough to not put their reasons in writing, but this one did. They will pay. Nice timing too, publishing this story right before Veteran’s Day.

    Sounds to me like the leadership did not care for this guy, and used his military service as en excuse to punish him. My Dept is almost the exact same size as Pittsfield’s, and we have 4 members who are in the Reserve/NG. A Dept that size should have been able to handle those absences without too much trouble.

    He only missed 8 months in 3 years. That is not much in this day and age. I’ve missed about 3 years in the last 6, another guy did 18 months in Bosnia, and we have another ARNG pilot who just returned from his second 18 month or longer tour. Our Dept, for all of it’s faults, has been supportive of our service and has followed the requirements of USERRA closely.

    • John

      I agree – there’s no excuse. Its hard to tell what is really going on in a case like this without knowing the true details. If he was passed over because of his service commitment, shame on the FD. If he is a weak officer candidate and is seeking to use his service status as an excuse/entitlement – shame on him. Both are unforgivable sins… the courts will have to sort it all out.

  • John

    Oops, just noticed it was Oct 2007-Nov 2008, not same year, so he had 20 months of service. Not that it matters to the case.

  • ukfbbuff

    The City is Flat Out Wrong in their denial of promotion to FF Jeffery Rawson and they should have known it before they caused him this run around.

    The City Attorney should admit this, give him what he is entitled to and resign for being “Stupid” in this matter.

  • Pingback: Pittsfield Military Discrimination Suit Settled | Fire Law()


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