WASHINGTON–The Justice Department Wednesday is filing of a complaint against the city of Pittsfield, Mass., for violating the rights of a U.S. Navy Reservist under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
The lawsuit alleges that the city violated Pittsfield firefighter Jeffrey Rawson’s rights by passing him over for promotion to lieutenant in the Pittsfield Fire Department because of his military service obligations. In November 2009, Rawson took a promotional exam for a lieutenant position. Based on the results of the examination, Rawson was ranked second on the promotional list. In July 2010, the city informed Rawson that he was being skipped for promotion and that a firefighter ranked lower on the promotional list was instead being promoted to lieutenant. The lower ranked firefighter was promoted to lieutenant in September 2010.
Rawson initially filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, which investigated the matter, determined that the complaint had merit, and referred the matter to the Justice Department. The lawsuit also alleges that, subsequent to Rawson’s complaint, the city again violated USERRA when it retaliated against him by refusing to reinstate him to the list of firefighters eligible to serve as an acting lieutenant.
USERRA prohibits civilian employers from discriminating against military reservists such as Rawson with respect to civilian employment opportunities, including promotions, based on their past, current, or future uniformed service obligations. The federal law also prohibits employers from retaliating against uniformed services members for exercising their rights under USERRA, including filing a complaint.
Among other things, the suit seeks to provide Rawson with a retroactive promotion to lieutenant ahead of the lower ranked firefighter who was promoted in September 2010, the lost wages and benefits that Rawson would have enjoyed if he had not been passed over for promotion, and liquidated damages.
“No servicemember should be prevented from advancing in his or her civil career because of military duties,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the rights of those who, through their bravery and sacrifice, secure the rights of all Americans.”
U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz said, “Our service men and women make the ultimate sacrifice by serving our country. We simply cannot let employers disadvantage them based on their military service or military status.”