BULLHEAD CITY, ARIZ.– Administrators with the Bullhead City Fire District say the U.S. Justice Department has brutally and unfairly characterized the fire department as being insensitive and indifferent to U.S. military members with ongoing commitments to the armed forces.
Fire Chief Rick Southey says nothing can be further from the truth and believes a media release issued by the Justice Department earlier this week, which highlights the case of a U.S. Army Reservist who tried to get his job back as a fire inspector when he returned from deployment in 2013, blatantly disregards specific points of the agreement as it pertains to the department.
Southey quickly pointed out that the settlement agreement that fire district governing board chairman Dave Cummings signed clearly states that by agreeing to settle out of court, the department does not admit to any violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). Nonetheless, the Justice Department not only claims the fire department violated USERRA, but also declares that the fire department “discriminated” against U.S. Army Reservist Brett Guinan, whose position was eliminated as part of a ‘reduction in workforce’ undertaken by the department as a budget cutting move in 2012.
“The Department of Justice press release is inaccurate in several areas and disingenuous to the spirit of the settlement agreement which unfairly casts the Bullhead City Fire Department in an undeserving negative light,” Southey said.
The Fire Chief also released letters that he authored when the U.S. Department of Labor first started investigating claims by Guinan that he had been unfairly targeted for termination while on deployment. The chief defended the department’s action claiming that Guinan was not the only person effected by the budget constraints that has forced the department’s hand since 2009. He even suggested it was a difficult decision given the fact of Guinan’s service to the country.
“It is regretful that the Bullhead City Fire District (BCFD) has had to even consider the separation of Mr. Guinan at a time he is serving our country,” Southey wrote in his letter to the Department of Labor investigator. “I believe we have explored every possibility in retaining the position up to the present time and believe we have complied fully with all employment laws.”
“However, under the current fiscal pressures and needs of the District, it was in the best interest of the District to reduce staffing levels as Department finances dwindle and the need to do more with less has increased,” the chief added.
In a subsequent letter to the investigators, Southey highlights seven positions that had been eliminated by the department since 2009 with Guinan’s being the eighth position. He also points out that the department’s policies require the department to consider rank and tenure when deciding who would be terminated during times of workforce reduction. There were two other members of the department who could have also faced termination, but both had worked for the department longer than Guinan, who was hired in July 2006.
Southey also informed the investigator that other members of the department are veterans and some were still obligated to perform military duties as reservists, for whom the department had made accommodations in the past.
“I would also add that our Department has several veterans and at least 2 full time members who are currently engaged in military reserve service,” Southey wrote.
At the conclusion of their investigation, the Department of Labor sent their findings to the Justice Department who proceeded to seek a settlement. The fire board approved the settlement last month for $75,000, which will serve as back pay to Guinan.
Southey said, his department was advised by its attorney’s and insurance provider to accept the settlement as the costs of litigation would quickly eclipse that amount.