LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A whistleblower lawsuit filed on behalf of two Louisville EMTs says they were demoted after speaking out on behalf of a co-workers who alleged sexual harassment.
Attorney Thomas Clay filed the suit in Jefferson Circuit Court on behalf of Diane Vogel and Jeremy Koonce. Both were high-ranking employees with Louisville Jefferson County Metro Emergency Medical Services and both took action to help the EMT who alleges she was sexually harassed.
"It needed to be brought to somebody's attention who could do something about it," Clay said. "A female employee for EMS filed a complaint on Sept. 20."
The defendants in the lawsuit are Louisville Metro Government, Louisville Jefferson County Metro Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and both the executive director and deputy director of EMS.
"They received information from her, they encouraged her to report it, and they helped her report it," Clay said.
That led to an investigation by the Department of Human Resources, which Clay said, "contains some pretty damning information within EMS, as far as sexual harassment is concerned."
According to documents obtained by WDRB News, the investigation concluded that a field training supervisor "made inappropriate comments toward the female employee and touched her in an unwelcome manner on several occasions."
"In all the years I've been doing this, I don't know if I've seen a report done by any Metro Government HR person that says there's a culture within this particular branch of Metro Government that encourages sexual harassment," Clay said.
The report makes seven recommendations, which include saying the training supervisor should "be demoted from a Field Training Officer to an EMT and closely monitored even in this role, be suspended for a minimum of five days without pay and be required to attend sexual harassment training offered by LMG's training division."
But Clay said those steps haven't been implemented, as far as he knows.
After the investigation, Clay said the executive director of Metro Emergency Services did take action but not against the training supervisor. Clay said both Vogel and Koonce were demoted for directing the alleged victim to human resources.
"Col. Vogel has been demoted to Lt. Col., and Lt. Col. Koonce has been demoted to major," Clay said. "We believe that this action of demoting them was somehow linked to the support they provided to this female employee. There's a close proximity in time for when they engaged in this protected activity and when they were actually demoted so, I think there is a connection there."
Clay also points to a 2017 email from Louisville EMS Executive Director Edward Meiman, which was addressed to Vogel, Koonce and several others. The subject: Investigations.
"From this day forward, no information/documentation concerning any investigation will be shared with any outside agency until that investigation has been completed, reviewed and approved for distribution," Meiman said in the email. "Investigations of this magnitude that could involve suspensions, termination or future investigations by other organizations will go through my office before being released. This may involve potentially seeking advice from our legal department before release as well."
In a Jan. 14 Memorandum obtained by WDRB News, Meiman said, "These changes are due to an agency realignment that will be announced in the coming days/weeks."
"This attempt to put a muzzle on the employees at EMS, I think has continued since that email came out in 2017," Clay said. "I think that is a problem for him to issue that kind of communication."
Clay believes the email is a violation of Kentucky Whistleblower Protections. It states:
"All Kentucky citizens are protected by state and federal whistleblower laws. Clay specifically points to KY St 61.102. (2) "No employer shall be subject to reprisal or discrimination against or use any official authority or influence to cause reprisal or discrimination by others against, any person who supports, aids, or substantiates any employee who makes public any wrongdoing set forth in subsection (1) of this section."
"These people are career EMS employees," Clay said. "They've come up through the ranks and for them to be demoted for no apparent reason, other than a 'reorganization,' was very troubling to both of them."
The lawsuit makes several demands, including judgment against the defendants, a trial by jury, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fee, injunctive relief and any such other relieve as plaintiffs may appear entitled.
"We're asking the court to consider all of these remedies," Clay said. "The court may not grant all of them, but we certainly want those to be on the table as a possible remedy for what's happened to these people."
A spokesperson for Mayor Greg Fischer's office directed questions to the county attorney. Late Monday afternoon, a county attorney spokesperson said they don't typically comment on open litigation.
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