3 former Mo. EMS employees file discrimination suits against chief

Michael Burks, Kim Kline and Aaron Steenbergen allege former EMS Chief Jerry Johnston fired them because of their age

By EMS1 Staff

COLE COUNTY, Mo. — Three former EMS employees have filed discrimination lawsuits after they were fired last year.

ABC17News.com reported that former Cole County EMS employees Michael Burks, Kim Kline and Aaron Steenbergen sued the county government Monday. They were fired on April 20, 2018, by Jerry Johnston, head of the department.

According to the lawsuits, Burks, Kline and Steenbergen had worked for Cole County for nine, 18 and "over 22" years before their terminations. They allege Johnston discriminated against them due to their age.

"On purpose, these employees were pushed out of their jobs with 22, 18 and almost 10 years of experience there at Cole County … based on their age," attorney Julianne Germinder said. "Not based on any legitimate reason or any problem with their work."

Kline also alleged Johnston made sexual comments to her and other female employees, according to the report.

"He would try to kiss women at work, he would try to touch them. He would be inviting women over to his house, to his hot tub, to his parties," Germinder said.

However, Cole County officials pushed back against the claims.

"[Germinder] alleges that the current environment at EMS is the same as the plaintiffs have alleged it was under Jerry, back in April 2018. That can't be farther from the truth," Cole County attorney Jill Lahue said.

Johnston resigned as EMS chief in June 2018 but continued to work as a paramedic under the new chief, Matthew Lindewirth.

"The environment that is alleged to have existed in April 2018, I can tell you does not exist now or since July 2018, when I first arrived as chief of EMS," Lindewirth said. "We operate within the confines of the law. Everyone is treated fairly based on their own merit."

Johnston, who did not comment, left his paramedic position in September 2018 for a job out of state, according to the report.

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