Marine sues Medford over firefighter job
Says he was in Iraq during city's hiring

By Lisa Wangsness, Globe Staff | December 28, 2006

MEDFORD -- A US Marine Corps sergeant filed a federal lawsuit against the city yesterday, contending that he was not hired as a firefighter because he was serving in Iraq during part of the application process this year.

Sergeant Stephen P. McLaughlin, who earned a Purple Heart in combat in Fallujah, Iraq, this summer, argues that Medford broke federal and state laws protecting active members of the military from job discrimination on the basis of military service.

"You would think they would at least honor that I wasn't here because I was fighting for my country," McLaughlin said.

But city officials said yesterday that the 25-year-old Marine reservist was not hired because of his driving record, which includes a one-year license suspension after he refused to take a breathalyzer test when he was stopped in New Hampshire six years ago. The city also cited a handful of minor violations McLaughlin committed as a teenager, and said he did not truthfully answer a question on his firefighter application.

"According to these records, Mr. McLaughlin's past has exhibited immature behavior, lack of responsibility and a disregard for the law," concludes an unsigned document explaining the city's decision, which the city released to the Globe with McLaughlin's permission yesterday.

In the suit, McLaughlin contends that the mayor told him directly that he was not chosen to be a firefighter because he was overseas during the application period, which began in August, even though McLaughlin's father handled the paperwork in his son's absence and assured city officials his son would be home by November.

He says the mayor gave the same reason to an aide to US Representative Edward J. Markey whom McLaughlin asked to intervene on his behalf. A spokesman for Markey's office would not comment yesterday on whether that was true, saying only that the aide suggested McLaughlin pursue the matter with the state Civil Service Commission.

Mayor Michael J. McGlynn of Medford said in a phone interview yesterday that he never told anyone McLaughlin was bypassed because he was serving overseas. In fact, the mayor said, he tried to expedite the application because he knew McLaughlin was serving in the war and added that McLaughlin's father thanked him for his help.

The state Civil Service Commission, however, cited Medford in September for unfairly discriminating against another military serviceman, Jeffrey King, who applied to be a firefighter while stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In response to King's appeal of the city's decision, the commission found that King was "never appropriately considered" for the job "solely because he was on active duty in the military." The commission also found that Fire Chief Frank Giliberti gave his own son a job and played an "inappropriate role in the nonselection of Jeffrey King."

Mark E. Rumley, the city solicitor, said the city disagrees with the commission's findings in that case and maintains it did nothing wrong, but would not elaborate.

McLaughlin's lawyer, Harold L. Lichten, called the city's citation of his client's driving record "a pretext for the real reason, which was that he was in service at the time."

As for the question the city says McLaughlin answered untruthfully -- McLaughlin said on his application that he had not been rejected from any civil service position, when he unsuccessfully applied for a firefighter's job in Medford in 2004 -- Lichten said his client's father, who filled out the application, misunderstood the question; McLaughlin had not been hired, he said, but he was never told he was rejected.

The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits employers from denying military personnel any benefit of employment on the basis of their performance of military service.

Massachusetts amended its employment discrimination law in 2004 to prohibit employers from denying employment, promotion, or retention to employees based on their military obligations.

McLaughlin also filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination yesterday, as well as an appeal of the city's decision with the Civil Service Commission.

McLaughlin, a member of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve rifle unit stationed in Londonderry, N.H., served on active duty overseas in South America, Japan, and the Philippines before he was deployed to Fallujah last March. In July, he said, he was driving a vehicle with four other men when a roadside bomb exploded beneath his vehicle. McLaughlin suffered a Grade II concussion and second-degree burns on his back, but a few days later he hitched a ride from the hospital back to base. He has no military disciplinary record, according to a spokesman for his unit. McLaughlin is awaiting a Purple Heart in recognition of the wounds he sustained.

McLaughlin said he has wanted to be a firefighter since he was a young boy who "idolized" his uncle and godfather, Vincent McLaughlin, now a 29-year veteran of the Somerville Fire Department.

"I'm not denying I made mistakes -- I absolutely made mistakes when I was young," he said of his driving violations. "Joining the Marine Corps was the best thing that ever happened to me. . . . I've proudly served my country, and I would proudly serve the Medford Fire Department, if given the opportunity."