FDNY EMS Workers Claim Retaliation For Speaking to Media

Four FDNY EMS workers and their union have filed suit against the City of New York and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro claiming they were retaliated against for speaking to the news media. AFSCME Local 2507, Elizabeth Bonilla, Alexander Nunez, Megan Pfeiffer, and John Rugen filed suit in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Each of the individual plaintiffs were disciplined after they spoke with members of the news media relative to problems within the EMS division. The suit contends that city’s disciplinary actions violated the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as the free speech and due process requirements of the New York state’s constitution.

According to the complaint:

  • Beginning in late 2019, Local 2507 has launched a campaign to publicize the difficulties faced by the Union’s members in their performance of emergency medical services in New York City.
  • Those difficulties multiplied as COVID-19 arrived. On March 5, 2020, Union Vice President Michael Greco testified before the New York City Council and reported that, in his judgment, the City’s emergency medical services system was not prepared for the pandemic.
  • As the COVID-19 crisis exploded in the City over the next several weeks, the Union increased its efforts to bring public attention to stresses, difficulties and dangers of the work performed by its members.
  • The Union was particularly concerned that the FDNY was failing to bring this important information to the attention of the public.
  • While the FDNY promoted some coverage of this subject, the Union decided that the narratives promoted by the FDNY were not providing complete information concerning the working conditions of its members.
  • Media outlets are and were very interested in featuring stories about the working conditions of Local 2507 members, and they sought to communicate directly with EMTs and Paramedics working in New York City’s 911 system.
  • Local 2507 determined that such media coverage was beneficial to its members and sought to assist these media outlets.
  • In response to this campaign, the FDNY has retaliated against EMTs and Paramedics who have spoken with or been filmed by journalists by suspending them or “restricting” their employment as EMTs and Paramedics without notice or an opportunity to be heard.
  • In fact, the FDNY takes the position that such employment restrictions are “non-disciplinary” and consistent with its policy and practice of removing EMTs and Paramedics from patient care indefinitely while it ostensibly conducts investigations.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment on the constitutional issues, and an injunction against any further disciplinary repercussions against the plaintiffs. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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