Georgia Firefighter Alleges Military Discrimination and Retaliation

A Georgia firefighter has filed suit claiming he was repeatedly passed over for promotion on account of his military service, and then retaliated against once he complained. Thomas Bridgeman filed suit in federal court earlier this month against the City of Milledgeville.

Bridgeman, who serves as a warrant officer with the US Army Reserve, has been with Milledgeville Fire Department since 2006. His military service includes multiple deployments including to Afghanistan. Bridgeman alleges he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant six times in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 USC §4301 (USERRA).

Quoting from the complaint:

  • The first two times that Plaintiff was denied promotions, in November 2015 and March 2018, he was specifically asked during the interview process when he would next be deploying for Army service.
  • In one instance, former Battalion Chief Miller Rogers told Plaintiff expressly that he did not promote him because Plaintiff might have to deploy again.
  • When Plaintiff was again denied a promotion to Lieutenant in September 2018, Plaintiff complained expressly that he had not received promotions because of his military service and that, by denying him promotions because of his military service, Defendant had violated USERRA.
  • In approximately late-January 2019, Plaintiff interviewed for a Senior Sergeant position, attending an in-person interview that included Chief Collier.
  • After Plaintiff left the room, Chief Collier informed the other interviewers that Plaintiff would not be getting the promotion “because he can’t be trusted,” or words to that effect.
  • In declaring that Plaintiff “can’t be trusted,” Chief Collier was referring to Plaintiff’s protected activity of opposing Defendant’s USERRA violations and expressing his retaliatory intent against Plaintiff for same.
  • By rejecting Plaintiff for promotion to the positions of Lieutenant and Senior Sergeant, Defendant has prevented him from achieving additional promotions within the department and moving up the ranks.
  • Over the course of his career, Defendant has failed to raise Plaintiff’s pay commensurate with his peers whenever raises occurred during periods in which Plaintiff was deployed.
  • In one such instance, Plaintiff was told expressly that he did not receive a raise because he was deployed for his military service.
  • Plaintiff seeks all available relief under USERRA, including (i) instatement to the denied positions; (ii) elevation of his compensation to the proper level; (iii) lost wages; (iv) lost benefits; (v) liquidated damages; (vi) interest; and (vii) attorneys’ fees and costs.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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.
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