RADNOR - As a major with the Air Force Reserve, John J. Murphy thought his extensive military record would be an asset when he applied to be manager of Radnor Township.
Instead, he contends, it cost him the job.
Lawyers for Murphy and the township are meeting this week to discuss a possible trial date on Murphy's claims that the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners discriminated against him on the basis of his military service: They didn't hire him, Murphy alleges, because they worried that his commitment to the Reserve would require him to leave town too often.
The federal Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits employers from using a job applicant's military commitments against him or her in hiring decisions. Murphy was hired this year as city manager of Hobbs, N.M., but seeks back pay and damages.
"Someone who decides to put their life on the line for their country should not be denied the right to fair treatment," said Murphy's attorney, David Tomaszewski.
An attorney representing Radnor did not return requests for comment. In filings, lawyer Joseph J. Santarone disputed that Murphy's military record influenced the commissioners' decision, and said current manager Robert Zienkowski was chosen because he was more qualified.
"All decisions made by the Board of Commissioners of Radnor Township were reasonable, based on what was best for the municipality," Santarone wrote in court records.
In 2009, Murphy, now 42, applied for the position vacated by David Bashore, who was fired by the board for allegedly paying unapproved bonuses to himself and other township employees.
In addition to six years as city manager of Wilkes-Barre, Murphy spent five months in 2008 stationed in Africa, where he coordinated search and rescue operations in 14 countries. Upon submitting his application, according to the suit, Radnor interim manager John Granger contacted Murphy to say he was one of eight finalists selected for an interview.
"He told me that he was extremely impressed with my military background and my experience in Wilkes-Barre, and that was exactly what Radnor needed, in terms of the ethical leadership in response to community outrage over David Bashore's actions," Murphy's claim states.
But when Murphy sat down for an interview with Radnor's commissioners in July 2009, he thought they seemed more interested in the amount of time Murphy spent with the Reserve than in his leadership experience. One even questioned how the municipality could "afford" to have the manager gone for 35 days each year.
Granger became uncomfortable with the line of questioning, according to the suit, and essentially told the board to "shut up."
A few days later, Granger informed Murphy by phone that "the commissioners had serious reservations about [his] ongoing military commitment," according to Murphy's complaint.
The township alleges that board members felt Murphy might have embellished his record in Wilkes-Barre. It also argues that when Murphy's brother, then-U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), called one board member before John Murphy's interview, it left some members with a negative impression.