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Pittsfield fire fighter claims he was passed up for a job because of military obligation

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Albany/HV: Pittsfield fire fighter claims he was passed up for a job because of military obligation
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They are allegations that, if proven true, could bring down Pittsfield's Fire Department. As our Berkshire County reporter Brandon Walker explains, a lawsuit has accused the city of making a fire fighter choose between his job and the country he serves.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- He says he was told to make a choice between city and country.
Pittsfield fire fighter Jeffrey Rawson, also a U.S. Navy reservist, says was passed up for a job the state's civil service exam suggests he should have gotten.

"Either he was away on service at that point in time or the promotion occurred while he was away," said Michael Macomber, a defense attorney for Tully Rinckey, an Albany-based law firm.

Macomber is not Rawson's attorney, though he has represented similar cases. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in a Boston Federal Court, the U.S. Department of justice has accused the City of Pittsfield of ignoring Rawson's rights in accordance with the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994.

"It provides a number of protections for returning service members to return to their former service positions and have protections for while they're serving our country," Macomber said.

Those protections, the Justice Department warns, were ignored. The suit claims in November 2009, Rawson took a civil service exam for a lieutenant position. While he says he placed second on the exam, the suit alleges Robert Czerwinski, Pittsfield's fire chief, told Rawson in June 2010 he was being skipped for the job because of his poor attendance record.

Macomber says these cases are common. Though, what's uncommon is the Justice Department stepping in.

"The fact that they are stepping in suggests that there is some merit to his case and that the department of justice has stepped in on his behalf to make sure that his rights are enforced," he said.

YNN reached out to Pittsfield City Solicitor Richard Dohoney for comment. He did not get back to us, but if this case does make it to court, there are several reasons the City of Pittsfield could use to explain why Rawson missed out on the promotion.

"There's number of arguments that always become presented in these situations. One of the ones that comes from the employer is that it is a burden to us. It's a burden to hold these positions while the service member is away," Macomber said.

Rawson could not be reached for comment.

Bigger picture, Macomber suspects we could see more of these claims brought forward with troops in Iraq slated to return home by year's end.

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