JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A former Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department lieutenant is suing the city of Jacksonville for not rehiring him after he finished his deployment with the United States Coast Guard Reserve, according to the federal lawsuit.
Federal law requires employers to put people back to work in their civilian jobs after military service. But according to the lawsuit filed in 2018, the city failed to reemploy Christopher Brock after he came back from his four-year deployment in 2014.
According to the lawsuit, the city fired Brock after his military absences met the limitation under federal law. But a memo from the U.S. Coast Guard goes against the city’s decision, according to the lawsuit. The memo claims the former firefighter’s service was exempt because, at the time, his orders were “issued because of war or national emergency declared by the president.”
Brock previously served active duty in the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged after he served during Operation Desert Shield. When hired, Brock was a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve and, in 2001, was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, according to court records.
Brock deployed for active duty up to 10 times during his time working for JFRD, according to the suit.
In August 2011, Brock notified the city of his active duty orders to deploy for four years with the U.S. Coast Guard.
The lawsuit alleges the JFRD human resources manager, Archie Cullen, sent Brock a letter, making him aware that, with his new tour, his military service absences had reached the five-year limitation under federal law -- meaning the city of Jacksonville was not obligated to offer him his job back when he returned from deployment.
The HR manager wrote, “Did not want to spring this on you in the middle of your new tour.”
Brock was released from active duty in June 2014, according to the lawsuit, and submitted a letter to the then fire chief, asking to be reinstated.
The city sent him a letter back, saying Brock was not eligible to be rehired, but offering him his old position back under the conditions he becomes recertified as a paramedic with the next year and a half.
Attorneys for the former firefighter say in the lawsuit that the city was wrong because federal law doesn’t allow employers to set prerequisites on employment for military service members returning from active duty. Attorneys claim in the lawsuit that Florida law provides such a license be valid for six months after a returning service member is released from active duty.
The lawsuit also says the U.S. Coast Guard issued a memo, determining that most of the former JFRD firefighter’s deployments were exempt because of war or national emergency declared by the president.
The lawsuit says when Brocks attorneys forwarded the memo to city attorneys, they sent back an email, saying if Brock was interested in returning to work for JFRD, he would have to reapply for a position, go through training academy again and be recertified.
Court documents say the email from city attorneys stated, “If the city has firefighter positions available, Mr. Brock would be rehired as an entry-level firefighter.”
Brock is suing to get lost wages and benefits back and claims, as a result of the city’s failure to reemploy him, he lost “his position, seniority and pay.”
On Tuesday, representatives for the city of Jacksonville told News4Jax they could not comment on pending litigation.
Attorneys for Brock say they are not available for comment at this time.