Firefighter Applicant On Military Duty Must Be Placed Atop Special Hiring List

On December 14, 2002, Robert Woods took an open competitive civil service examination to become a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department. One of the qualifications to be a firefighter is that a candidate, by the date of appointment, must have successfully completed 30 semester credits from an accredited college or university or obtained a four-year high school diploma and completed two years of honorable full-time military service. At the time Woods took the examination, he had fulfilled neither of these requirements.

Woods passed the examination and was placed on the eligible list. The list was set to expire on May 5, 2008.

Woods enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 2006. In April 2007, while he was serving in the Army, the Fire Department notified Woods by letter of its intent to appoint him from the eligible list. To be appointed, Woods needed to complete certain medical and psychological testing. Woods’s mother responded to the letter and advised the Fire Department that her son was scheduled to be discharged from the Army in September 2008. She was told that upon his discharge, he should contact the Fire Department to complete the remaining parts of the examination.

On January 18, 2008, while he was still on active military duty, Woods’s list number was reached for possible certification and appointment. All names certified on January 18, 2008 were later appointed to the Fire Department on January 21, 2008.

Woods was released from the Army in July 2008. Upon his release, Woods contacted the Fire Department to take the medical and psychological parts of the examination and submit to a background investigation. In August 2008, Woods filed an “Application Under State Military Law for Determination of Rights on Eligible List” seeking a determination of his rights under New York’s Military Law Section 243. That section provides that any person whose name is on an eligible list and comes up for certification while on duty “shall” be placed on a special eligible list provided he makes a request following termination of his military duty and during the period of his eligibility.

When the City denied Woods’s request to be placed on a special eligible list, he sued. New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, sided with Woods, and ordered him placed on a special list.

The Court concluded that “it is undisputed that Woods’s name appeared on the examination’s eligible list, and was ‘reached for certification’ while he was serving in the military. Woods timely submitted the paperwork necessary for placement on a special eligible list after his discharge, thereby complying with the statutory requirements.

“The City argues that Woods was nonetheless ineligible to be placed on a special eligible list because he did not have the required two years of military service when his name was reached on the original eligible list. But the City has misconceived the statutory scheme. The law says ‘shall,’ not ‘may,’ and makes no exception for those who do not meet qualifications at the time their names are reached. It gives the City no discretion to refuse to put names on a special eligible list. In this case, Woods had completed his military service and his name was or should have been reached on the special list. By then, Woods had the necessary qualifications.”

Woods v. New York City Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services, 947 N.E.2d 647 (N.Y. 2012).