An EMT can proceed with his retaliation claims where he presented sufficient evidence to require a trier of fact to determine whether his former employer’s asserted reason for terminating his employment is pretext for unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law, a federal district court has ruled, denying the employer’s motion for summary judgment. Verga v. Emergency Ambulance Service, et al., 12-CV-1199 (DRH) (ARL) (E.D. N.Y. Nov. 18, 2014).

The plaintiff, a male EMT employed by the defendant Emergency Ambulance Service (“EAS”), was partnered during one shift with a male paramedic who repeatedly stated that he wanted to have a sexual relationship with the plaintiff and placed his hand on the plaintiff’s thigh near his crotch for approximately 20 seconds. The plaintiff reported the paramedic’s behavior to EAS at the end of the shift. 

Later, on his Facebook page, the plaintiff threatened bodily harm to the person who “thought today was a joke” without identifying the individual to whom he was referring. EAS’s Director of Human Resources investigated the plaintiff’s complaint and directed the paramedic to apologize to the plaintiff and to undergo sexual harassment training. The Director also determined the plaintiff should attend a workplace violence seminar because of the Facebook post and his co-workers’ concerns about his behavior.

The Director prepared a letter requesting the plaintiff’s consent to attend the workplace violence seminar and stating that EAS was dealing with the plaintiff’s complaint. According to the plaintiff’s affidavit, approximately 10 minutes after signing the letter, he asked the Director to rip it up because he did not agree the matter was being handled appropriately, but said he would attend the seminar. The plaintiff then left the EAS facility and never returned. One week later, EAS informed the plaintiff his employment was terminated.

The plaintiff filed suit alleging EAS had unlawfully retaliated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the New York State Human Rights Law, as well as making a state law claim for unpaid wages. 

EAS moved for summary judgment. The court noted EAS’s Director of Human Resources stated in his affidavit that EAS terminated the plaintiff because of his demeanor when it attempted to discuss the incident with him, information from his co-workers about his anger issues, the information on the plaintiff’s Facebook page, and the plaintiff’s refusal to attend the seminar. On the other hand, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit stating he told EAS that while he would not sign the letter he would attend the training. The court held that the plaintiff’s evidence calls into question EAS’s articulated reason for terminating him, and therefore denied its motion for summary judgment.

This decision highlights the importance of employers carefully articulating the reasons for terminating an employee to reflect accurately their decision making process.