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Monday, April 23, 2012

Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against City of Pittsfield, Mass., to Enforce the Employment Rights of a U.S. Navy Reservist

The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the city of Pittsfield, Mass., to resolve allegations that the city violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by failing to promote a navy reservist and Pittsfield firefighter, and by retaliating against him after he invoked his rights.


The Justice Department’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, 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 2009, Rawson took a promotional exam for lieutenant. 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 in September 2010.


The lawsuit further alleges that, after Rawson filed a USERRA complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, the city retaliated against him by refusing to reinstate him to the list of firefighters eligible to serve as an acting lieutenant.


Under the terms of the settlement, embodied in a consent decree that has been submitted for approval to the federal district court, the city will promote Rawson to lieutenant retroactive to September 2010. The settlement also requires the city to provide Rawson with over $22,000 in back pay, pension contributions and interest. The settlement further mandates the city to provide USERRA training to city department heads and supervisors on the rights and obligations of covered employees and their employers.


“Our military servicemembers sacrifice tremendously to serve our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This settlement demonstrates our vigilant protection of the employment opportunities of our servicemembers, and our commitment to vigorous enforcement of the laws that protect them.”


“Employers face incredible challenges when an employee leaves his position temporarily to serve our country. However, our servicemembers endure much greater challenges to protect our precious freedom,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz for the District of Massachusetts. “We are pleased that the city of Pittsfield agreed to restore Mr. Rawson’s rights and provide him with the promotion to which he was entitled.”


This case was litigated by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. 

Civil rights enforcement is a priority of the Department of Justice and District of Massachusetts. The rights of our servicemembers are protected under USERRA, which prohibits civilian employers from discriminating against members of the military, including reservists, with respect to employment opportunities, including promotions, based on their past, current, or future uniformed service obligations.  The federal law also prohibits employers from retaliating against service members for exercising their rights under USERRA, including by filing a complaint. Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department’s websites, www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov , as well as the Labor Department’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm .

Press Release Number: 
Updated September 15, 2014