Arizona Fire Department Settles Military Commitment Discrimination Claim

The US Department of Justice has announced a court-approved settlement of a claim by a Bullhead City, Arizona firefighter that his fire department violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by eliminating his position, and refusing to rehire him.

Brett Guinan claims that while he was on a US Army Reserves military deployment in 2013, the Bullhead City Fire Department eliminated his fire inspector position, and then refused to rehire him when his commitment was completed. The one year deployment was Guinan’s third extended deployment since 2008.

According to the complaint:

  • Guinan’s termination letter stated that his Fire Inspector position was being eliminated as part of a “reduction in workforce” due to a decline in property tax revenue.
  • Guinan’s Fire Inspector position was the only position eliminated by BCFD in 2013.
  • During the relevant time period, BCFD also continued to hire new employees and posted several job openings on its website.

Guinan also claims that his superior officer, Fire Marshall Jim Dykens, “made several statements indicating that he should quit BCFD and pursue a full-time career with the military.”

Guinan filed a complaint with the United States Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and

Training Service (“VETS”), alleging a USERRA violation. That claim was referred to the US DOJ Civil Rights Division who successfully reached a resolution with the department.

According to a press released issued by the DOJ:

  • USERRA protects the rights of uniformed service members to retain their civilian employment following absences due to military service obligations, and provides that service members shall not be discriminated against because of their military obligations.  
  • This case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), pursuant to an investigation by the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.  The case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which works collaboratively with the DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of Army Reserves service members upon their return to civilian life.
  • Under the terms of the settlement agreement, filed along with the complaint, BCFD has agreed to pay $75,000 as back pay and front pay damages to Guinan.  BCFD also has agreed to adopt a new personnel policy that informs employees of their rights and obligations under USERRA and to provide USERRA training to all supervisory staff in its five fire stations.

The settlement agreement states: “This Settlement Agreement is being entered into with the consent of the Parties and shall not constitute an admission by BCFD of any violations of USERRA.”

Here is a copy of the complaint: Guinan v Bullhead City

Here is a copy of the settlement agreement:  Guinan v Bullhead City Settlement Agreement

Note that both the complaint and the settlement agreement were filed the same day, May 5, 2015. This is a mechanism for the DOJ to ensure compliance with the requirements of the agreement, as the DOJ could seek to have the BCFD held in contempt if it fails to comply with any of the terms.

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.

Check Also

Tacoma Fined and Ordered to Train Department Heads in Public Records Compliance

The City of Tacoma has been fined $36,800 and ordered to provide training to all department heads for failing to produce a fire protection study when requested by an open government activist. Arthur West sued the city seeking “threat assessment” records related to an LNG facility.

Fire District Settles Trademark Infringement Suit With Union

A lawsuit filed by an Oregon fire district seeking to block the firefighter’s union from using the department’s trademarked and copyrighted logos, has been settled. The Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue filed suit against Mid-Columbia Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 1308 last September.