Agreement Secures Promotion Opportunity and Backpay for Chicago Firefighter and U.S. Army Reservist after Deployment
September 10, 2023 – The Justice Department announced on Friday that it has resolved a complaint filed against the City of Chicago on behalf of U.S. Army Reservist Derrick Strong. The department’s lawsuit alleged that the city violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) when it failed to offer Strong the opportunity to take an examination upon his return from military service that would have made him eligible for a promotion. After the lawsuit was filed, Strong was given the promotional exam, which he passed, and promoted to the rank of Fire Engineer. The settlement will award him retroactive seniority and back pay.
“Federal law safeguards the civilian employment rights of our nation’s servicemembers and requires that they have the promotional opportunities they would have earned had their employment not been interrupted by military service,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Employers must ensure that servicemembers have a fair opportunity to seek promotion, including by offering make-up examinations missed due to military service, and this settlement will ensure that this continues to happen.”
Strong began his employment in August 2009 as a Firefighter/EMT. He served on active duty from September 2016 through June 2017. Immediately upon returning from his deployment, Strong made multiple requests to take the Fire Engineer promotional examination that he missed while on active duty. Although the city did not begin making Fire Engineer promotions until almost a year after Strong returned, the city denied him the opportunity to take the exam. Initially, the city asserted that because it offered Strong an opportunity to take the Fire Engineer promotional examination at his military post while on active duty, his failure to take the promotional exam was of his own doing.
In April 2022, shortly after Strong’s successful performance on the make-up Fire Engineer examination that was ultimately given to him, the city promoted him to the rank of Fire Engineer. The city also changed its policy to allow servicemembers to take make-up promotional examinations upon their return from military service. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the city also agreed to retroactively adjust Strong’s Fire Engineer appointment date to June 2018, the date that he would have been promoted had the city properly administered the examination upon his return from military service and to pay Strong for his lost wages in the amount of $52,000.
The Department of Labor (DOL) referred this matter to the Justice Department following an investigation by its Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
Trial Attorneys Alicia D. Johnson, Vendarryl Jenkins and Catherine Sellers of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section (ELS) litigated this case.
ELS continues to work collaboratively with the DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of military members. The Justice Department gives high priority to the enforcement of servicemembers’ rights under USERRA. Additional information about USERRA can be found at www.justice.gov/crt/laws-we-enforce and www.justice.gov/servicemembers, as well as on the DOL’s website at www.dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/userra.
Source: DOJ Release