By Wayne D. Garris Jr., J.D.
The four plaintiffs were featured in their union’s media campaign to highlight the dangers that New York City EMTs and paramedics faced due to COVID-19.
On June 10, an EMT and three paramedics filed suit against the City of New York, alleging that they were disciplined without fair notice or a hearing in violation of their First Amendment and due process rights for participating in their union’s media campaign about the dangers faced by EMTs and paramedics as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across New York.
Media campaign. According to the complaint, in 2019, AFSCME Local 2507 started a media campaign to publicize its members’ difficulties in the performance of their duties. The union later shifted its campaign’s focus to the unique challenges presented by the pandemic. Over a period of several weeks, local and national media outlets reported about the pandemic’s impact on FDNY employees who contracted the coronavirus or were self-quarantining away from their families. The four plaintiffs gave interviews or appeared in media reports, in which they discussed their experiences as FDNY employees during the pandemic, including the lack of employer-provided personal protective equipment.
Suspensions. After their media appearances, the plaintiffs were either suspended or placed on “restricted” status—meaning they could work but could not provide patient care or work overtime. The suit alleges that the punishments were imposed without fair notice or a chance to be heard and violated due process. In addition, the employees assert that they spoke as private citizens on a matter of public concern, implicating their First Amendment rights.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief.
“The FDNY for years has tried to control the freedom of speech of our EMTs and Paramedics, the FDNY wants to control the narrative of our profession, by means of intimidation,” said Local 2507 president Owen Barzilay in a statement on the union’s website. “Today we begin our fight for our constitutional right to speak to the press on matters of public interest and concern.”
The case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is Barzilay v. City of New York, No. 1:20-cv-04452.
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