Not Illegal To Merely Discuss Fire Applicant’s Military Service During Interview

Timothy Hart applied to become a firefighter with Hillside Township, New Jersey. During Hart’s oral interview, he raised as a positive attribute his service in the Army National Guard. Subsequently, the Township’s interviewers asked him questions about how much time he was required to commit to the Guard, how flexible the Guard was with respect to scheduling, and whether he intended to continue to be in the Guard.

When Hart was not hired, he brought a lawsuit under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), alleging that the Township had discriminated against him because of his military service. A federal trial court dismissed Hart’s lawsuit.

Hart contended that he had produced evidence from which a jury could reasonably find that his military service was a substantial or motivating factor in the Township’s employment decisions. Hart pointed to the discussion at his interview concerning his military service.

The Court found that the mere discussion of Hart’s military service was not sufficient to meet his burden of proof. The Court noted that Hart initially raised his military service, and that the five members of the hiring committee who testified in the case indicated that they believed Hart’s commitment to the National Guard was a positive attribute.

The Court found that the committee did not discuss Hart’s military obligations after the interview, and that there was no evidence that the Township viewed Hart’s military service as negatively impacting its employment decision. The Court described Hart’s evidence as “scant,” and as not meeting his burden of showing that his military service was “a substantial or motivating factor in the Township’s hiring decision.”

The Court also found that the hiring committee’s decision was based on completely independent grounds, including the fact that (1) Hart seemed to take the interview too casually; (2) he was inappropriately dressed; (3) he used inappropriate words during the interview, including the term “gook”; (4) Hart had a criminal history, including a disorderly persons offense related to an incident with his girlfriend; (5) Hart had a terrible driving record for which he did not accept responsibility; and (6) Hart behaved in an immature fashion during the interview.

Hart v. Hillside Township, 2006 WL 756000 (D.N.J. 2006).

This article appears in the May 2006 issue