In a recent appeals court decision, it was held that an ambulance service was justified in firing a paramedic for violation of company policy, and that the paramedic’s sexual orientation was not a factor in his termination, as was alleged by the paramedic in his lawsuit.
In Miranda v. ESA Hudson Valley, Inc., the plaintiff was a paramedic employed by ESA Hudson Valley, an ambulance service. The Paramedic had responsibility for controlled substances stored in a “narcotics box” for use during his tour of duty. Typically, for each tour, the Paramedic had a key to the inner door of the narcotics box and his Emergency Medical Technician (or EMT) partner had a key to the outer door of the box, a system which was designed so that no one individual would have access to the drugs during the tour. The Paramedic was also responsible for taking inventory of the narcotics box and logging the box in and out at the beginning and end of each tour.
After discovering discrepancies in the controlled substances records and inventory sheets, the Ambulance Service reviewed the surveillance tapes from the camera over the area where controlled substances were kept and learned that that on the day in question, the narcotics box was not properly secured. The Paramedic was fired, allegedly for “a serious violation of company policy regarding the security of controlled substances.” The Paramedic asserted, however, that after he informed some of his superiors he was gay, some six months prior to his termination, he went onto a “hit list” and discrimination was the real reason for which he was fired. The New York Human Rights Law expressly prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. The Paramedic sued. His lawsuit was dismissed and he appealed.
The appeals court upheld his firing. It found that the Ambulance Service had established a “legitimate and non-discriminatory basis” for firing the Paramedic, in that that he was found to have violated the controlled substances policies and procedures. The Paramedic agreed at his deposition that leaving the door to the controlled substances box open “wasn’t something you’re supposed to do.” The Court found that the Paramedic failed to show that his firing “was designed to mask . . . discrimination” and concluded that there was no discriminatory motive and the issues concerning the discrepancies in the narcotics box records were the real reasons for his firing.
It is noteworthy that the appeals court pointed out that the Ambulance Service could have fired the Paramedic for an earlier incident but did not. That incident involved a complaint by a fellow employee, a male, that the Paramedic had touched him inappropriately. Rather than fire the Paramedic then, the Ambulance Service instead required that he attend a sexual harassment seminar. The court noted that such facts undermined the Paramedic’s claims that his firing for the security lapses concerning the controlled substances was pre-textual and that discrimination was the real reason for his termination.
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Miranda v. Esa Hudson Valley, Inc., 124 A.D.3d 1158 (2015), 2 N.Y.S.3d 668, 125 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1784.