Washington Firefighter Sues Claiming Military Discrimination

A Washington state firefighter who was repeatedly denied accommodations for his military service has filed suit in federal court claiming a violation of Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). Brett Martinson filed suit yesterday in US District Court for the Western District of Washington against Central Pierce Fire & Rescue.

Martinson claims that the department repeatedly denied him benefits, training and promotional opportunities in violation of USERRA. Among the allegations:

  • In late 2007 through 2008, Mr. Martinson applied for a teaching position within the fire department as a paramedic airway management technician.
  • Approximately seven others also applied for the paramedic airway management technician position. All seven other applicants were selected.
  • None of the other applicants that were selected for that position had a military service obligation.
  • Shortly thereafter, Mr. Martinson asked Assistant Chief of Emergency Medical Service (“EMS”), Judy Murphy, why he was not selected. Assistant Chief Murphy stated that, “You didn’t get the position due to your status in the military”.
  • From April 27, 2013 through July 30, 2013, Mr. Martinson was on deployment with the military. During his deployment, the CPFR announced a lieutenant promotion test that would occur in September. Mr. Martinson returned to the CPFR in August, met with HR staff member Stephanie Glass, and requested to take the lieutenant promotion test with an accommodation (an alternate testing date) that would allow him equal time as his peers to prepare for the exam.
  • The HR Manager denied the request for an accommodation and Mr. Martinson was forced to take the assessment center with all promotional candidates, without reasonable preparation time contravention of USERRA, 20 C.F.R. 1002.139(b).
  • Shortly after Mr. Martinson’s return from deployment, he requested, through the Washington State Department of Retirement Systems, per CPFR policy, that his pension service credits be restored for the months he was absent for military service.
  • The request was denied, in contravention of USERRA, 20 C.F.R. 1002.259.
  • In July 2015, Mr. Martinson deployed to Afghanistan. Immediately prior to his deployment he met with HR, payroll, the Assistant Chiefs of EMS and Operations, and a union representative. The purpose of the meeting was to address any issues that may arise due to Mr. Martinson’s deployment. Given his prior experience regarding lieutenant testing, Mr. Martinson requested to take a make-up upon his return if there was testing held while he was on deployment.
  • The CPFR held the lieutenants’ test for eight individuals while Mr. Martinson was deployed, and none had a military service obligation.
  • At least six individuals who applied were promoted to lieutenant, and none had a military service obligation.
  • Mr. Martinson returned from active duty on March 7, 2016.
  • After his return, Mr. Martinson requested an alternate/makeup lieutenant test date, and both the HR Director Candise Martinson and the EMS Chief Dan Beckman denied the request in contravention of USERRA, 20 C.F.R. 1002.139(b).
  • Shortly after Mr. Martinson’s return from deployment, he requested that his service credits be restored for the months he was absent for military service.
  • The request was denied and Defendant’s agent demanded that Mr. Martinson pay contributions for periods of time while he was on military leave in contravention of USERRA, 20 C.F.R. 1002.259.
  • In June 2018, Mr. Martinson deployed to South Korea for six months.
  • In October 2018, during his deployment, CPFR announced a Suppression Lieutenants test scheduled for April 29, 2019.
  • The test has two components, an assessment center, and a written test.
  • Mr. Martinson returned from deployment and reported back to CPFR on January 14, 2019.
  • Within thirty days of his return, Mr. Martinson requested an accommodation for the test date, so that he would have equal time as his peers to prepare for the exam.
  • Shortly after Mr. Martinson’s return from deployment, he requested that his service credits be restored for the months he was absent for military service.
  • The request was denied and Defendant’s agent demanded that Mr. Martinson pay contributions for periods of time while he was on military leave in contravention of USERRA, 20 C.F.R. 1002.259.
  • In March 2019, Mr. Martinson was called to active duty for twenty-four days.
  • On April 29, 2019, Suzi E. Schwabe, Human Resources Director denied Mr. Martinson’s request (paragraph 30 above) for accommodation and he was forced to take the assessment center with all promotional candidates, without reasonable preparation time contravention of USERRA, 20 C.F.R. 1002.139(b).

The complaint seeks damages, including liquidated (double) damages because the violations were willful, plus court orders remedying his pension service credits and ordering his promotion to lieutenant retroactive to March 7, 2016.

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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