Chicago Facing Suit For Military Discrimination

A Chicago firefighter, with the support of the US Department of Justice, has filed suit claiming the city’s refusal to accommodate his request to make-up a promotional exam when he returned from a military deployment violates the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

Derrick Strong filed suit yesterday in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Strong, who is also an attorney, serves a captain in the US Army Reserve as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

He was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from September 30, 2016 through June 26, 2017, causing him to miss the written component of the promotion process for Fire Engineer.

When Strong discovered he might miss the exam, he formally requested “a make up date to take the exam when I am not on active duty and a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the exam.” The city’s HR initially told him “[w]e will allow you to take a makeup examination when you return.” However, the city later decided “to schedule a remote administration of the written portion of the Fire Engineer examination” that would be administered by his commanding officer.

Strong objected to the city’s plan, claiming his JAG Corps duties would make it impossible for him to prepare for the test. Upon his discharge from active duty, he requested a makeup examination four times, on June 28, June 29, July 3 and October 5, 2017. According to the complaint:

  • “He did not receive a response from either the CFD or DHR.”
  • “Since his return from active duty in June 2017, the Defendants have failed to provide Strong an opportunity to make up the Fire Engineer promotional examination.”

The complaint alleges a single count of a violation of USERRA. It was brought by the US Attorney’s Office in Chicago and the Chief of the Employment Litigation Section of the US Department of Justice.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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