A paramedic working in Philadelphia recently filed a lawsuit against her former employer, citing a violation of Pennsylvania’s whistle blower act. Valerie Sakr contends that she informed her employer she believed her fellow employee, the EMT driving the ambulance in which she rode, was intoxicated. Her employer told her and the allegedly intoxicated employee to go out on the road anyways, and shortly afterwards, the EMT hit another vehicle.
Sakr believed the employee was intoxicated due to the fact that he smelled like alcohol. When the employer drug tested the employee, his blood alcohol content was 0.07, below Pennsylvania’s legal limit. Ms. Sakr, contends, however, that the employer waited four hours after her original complaint to drug test the employee. Due to the way alcohol is metabolized in the body, this raises a strong likelihood that the employee has indeed drunk when he and Ms. Sakr left to begin their shift and when he drove in to the other vehicle.
A few days after the accident, Ms. Sakr filed a complaint with the county health department. It is interesting to note that wile Pennsylvania does have a statute regarding drivers of emergency vehicles, 75 P.S.A. §3105, the statute does not state anything overtly about the penalties for drivers who are under the influence. The statute does not relieve drivers of emergency vehicles from the duty to drive with due regard to the safety of all persons, which obviously would include Pennsylvania’s state law forbidding operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
According to Ms. Sakr’s complaint, it was after she went to the county health department that her employer began to retaliate against her, including pressuring her to resign. When she refused to do so, her employer changed her schedule, forced her to use the most outdated vehicle and equipment, and denied her vacation request while granting similar requests to other employees. The employer later fired Ms. Sakr.
Ms. Sakr brought suit under the Pennsylvania whistle blowing statute, which protects employees who report waste or wrongdoing to his or her employer or a government agency. Waste involves substantial abuse, misuse, destruction or loss of funds or resources belonging to or derived from the Commonwealth or political subdivision sources. Wrongdoing is defined as a violation which is not of a merely technical or minimal nature of a Federal or State statute or regulation. Wrongdoing would presumably include both the EMT’s driving while intoxicated and the employer’s forcing Ms. Sakr to go out on the road with the intoxicated employee, especially considering the statute requires the report to be made in good faith. The good faith requirement would most likely protect Ms. Sakr even if the conduct in question was not found to be wrongdoing. The Pennsylvania whistle blower statute forbids employers discharging, threatening, or otherwise discriminating or retaliating against an employee acting under the protection of the whistle blower act.
The lesson to be learned from this complaint is a rather obvious one: don’t force your employees to ride in cars with other employees who are intoxicated, and don’t fire your employee when they complain about it.
Michael Kraemer is a partner with Kraemer, Manes & Associates, a law firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, serving all of Pennsylvania, with attorneys focusing on business law, employment law, litigation, and civil issues. For more information please visit www.lawkm.com.