Conn. lawsuit against AMR describes 'sexist,' 'boys club' culture; AMR denies claims
"I really want to make sure that this never happens to another female because I know how hard it has been," said EMT Anna Broggi, who is suing
By Meghan Friedmann
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN — In late 2020, EMT Anna Broggi shared disturbing allegations with her supervisor at American Medical Response's New Haven branch, according to a pending lawsuit.
Broggi told her supervisor that on a recent night out socializing and drinking with colleagues, one coworker forcibly kissed and molested her, using his hand to silence her as she repeatedly pleaded for him to stop, the lawsuit claims.
Company officials downplayed her allegations and responded mostly with inaction, dragging their feet to investigate and never offering her resources to cope with her trauma, the lawsuit says.
It alleges Broggi's treatment was part of a broader pattern at an organization that allowed sexual harassment to take place with impunity.
AMR denied those claims in a legal filing. When asked for comment, AMR said in statements it takes allegations of harassment and assault seriously and that within the past year, it has installed new leadership overseeing the New Haven branch.
In interviews with Hearst Connecticut Media Group, six current and former AMR New Haven employees — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity — described a culture where women have for years been subjected to sexual comments and other inappropriate behavior at the hands of men they worked with, including supervisors.
Five of those individuals said they directly experienced such inappropriate behavior; the sixth said he witnessed misconduct firsthand.
Three said they told supervisors about at least some of the troubling incidents, but as far as they knew managers took little or no action.
"To see something like this happen to (Broggi), that's horrible, but what's more horrible is that it's not shocking," said Lizbeth Jimenez, who worked for AMR New Haven from 2014 until 2021.
The branch is the primary ambulance service provider for New Haven and Hamden. It employs over 400 EMTs and paramedics, who respond to about 100,000 calls per year, according to its website.
Employees pointed to previous on- and off-duty accusations of sexual misconduct by AMR New Haven employees as further cause for concern about the company's culture and standards.
Over the past decade police accused at least three men who worked there of sex crimes. One case, which resulted in a conviction, pertained to an employee's behavior while on the job. A fourth employee was hired by AMR despite having been publicly accused of assault and sexual harassment.
"The entire culture there was just like a giant cesspool," said a woman who worked for AMR as an emergency medical technician for over five years. She said she left several years ago.
The experience was so traumatic she said she has not been able to return to the workplace.
(The woman and others who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity cited concern that being identified would be detrimental to continuing their careers in emergency medicine.)
Several interviewees said they hoped Broggi's lawsuit sparks a culture change at AMR New Haven. Broggi does, too.
"The ideal outcome is that I am the last female that this happens to," Broggi said. "I really want to make sure that this never happens to another female because I know how hard it has been."
In statements to Hearst Connecticut Media, AMR said it "is committed to making every reasonable effort to prevent the occurrence of sexual abuse by any employee or independent contractor associated with AMR."
"We take allegations of any harassment or assault seriously," the company said. "All allegations of sexual abuse are treated as a serious matter and investigated thoroughly."
One night in November 2020, Broggi, an employee named Anthony Salerno and a third coworker "gathered in the parking lot next to the AMR building to socialize and drink," her lawsuit says.
Broggi had one drink, per the lawsuit, which says once the third coworker left, Salerno suggested he and Broggi finish their drinks in his car on the cold evening.
Once inside the car, Salerno locked the doors, turned off the headlights and forcibly kissed Broggi, "(stuffing) his hand into her mouth and down her throat" to silence her after she repeatedly said 'no," the lawsuit says.
He then pinned her down and molested her, according to the lawsuit, which says she "repeatedly pleaded with him to stop" and attempted to unlock and open the car door. She eventually succeeded and fled, her complaint says.
In mid-December, Broggi went to the New Haven Police Department to report Salerno had assaulted her.
The resulting police report, obtained via a records request, says Salerno texted Broggi an apology after the alleged assault. When a detective questioned him about the text, Salerno said he was apologizing for kissing Broggi while he was engaged to another woman, according to the report.
"Salerno stated that all he did was kiss Broggi and that was the extent of what happened in his vehicle," according to the police report.
"I said no and told you to stop multiple times and you didn't. I had to force my way out of your car," Broggi texted Salerno, according to the screenshots of the messages, which show she also told him not to "force (himself)" on her.
"I understand that and that is 100% the reason why I feel so entirely like a piece of shit," Salerno wrote back.
Police closed their investigation, citing a "lack of evidence."
New Haven Police Department spokesperson Scott Shumway said in an email the agency "conducted a thorough investigation into the allegations, considering all the evidence available, and determined that there was not probable cause to apply for an arrest warrant."
Salerno declined to comment through a family member.
The company's response
Broggi also brought the matter to multiple AMR managers, according to the lawsuit.
In late 2020, when Broggi first reported her assault allegations to a supervisor, he agreed to her request that she not work with Salerno.
But he told her there was nothing else AMR could do because the event did not take place on company property, the lawsuit alleges; AMR disputes that in court filings.
Seven months later, Broggi learned the company had a duty to investigate the alleged assault regardless of where it took place, according to the lawsuit.
She brought the matter to a different supervisor, Timothy Craven. The lawsuit alleges Craven had an "intimidating manner," treated Broggi with "hostility and contempt" and blamed her for what occurred.
The lawsuit says Broggi was "crying and shaking" as she described the alleged assault. Craven responded "by rebuking her: 'Calm down, this is not a big deal, you should not be getting so worked up,'" the lawsuit says.
Later, Craven suggested Salerno likely thought his actions were OK because Salerno and Broggi had briefly dated, according to the lawsuit, which says Craven "also stated that sometimes when alcohol is involved the lines get blurred."
In court filings, AMR disputed the lawsuit's description of Craven's response. Craven was not the supervisor told about the allegations seven months earlier.
Craven, who now works in a different role with AMR, did not respond to press inquiries.
In a court filing, AMR acknowledged the company did not investigate Broggi's claims when she first reported them to a supervisor. The company claimed it "conducted a thorough investigation into (Broggi's) allegations shortly thereafter."
But the court filing does not make clear exactly when it began investigating and company officials did not answer questions from Hearst Connecticut Media about the investigation's timing.
AMR also denied the sexual assault occurred in the court filing, though the company said it issued Salerno a written warning and ordered him to take several workplace training modules following a company investigation in the summer of 2021.
According to Broggi's lawsuit, AMR placed Salerno on administrative leave but allowed him to return to work shortly thereafter because he was not criminally charged.
Salerno left AMR in March, according to his LinkedIn profile.
According to Broggi's complaint, problems in the workplace began well before the assault, as several women raised complaints about an EMT "who subjected them to sexual harassment and outright sexual assault."
The EMT resigned but was allowed to rejoin AMR after the women who complained left, according to the lawsuit, which says he still worked there as of May 2022.
AMR disputed that sexual harassment complaints were made against the EMT but admitted that he resigned from the company and was later rehired.
The six current and former employees interviewed by Hearst Connecticut Media said that, shortly after starting work there, they came to believe AMR had a cultural problem because of inappropriate behavior they experienced and witnessed firsthand. Four said comments about the appearance of women employees were pervasive.
One woman told Hearst Connecticut Media a colleague sexually harassed her. She said she told supervisors, who said she would no longer be put on the same shifts as the colleague and the matter would be investigated.
No one ever followed up with her, she said.
One man, who said he still works at AMR, described his first impression of the company's culture. It immediately "seemed like such an accustomed thing for people to be able to be pushy with the females there," he said.
"There's people here who've asked girls what kind of underwear they wear," he said. "There's people who've asked what size waist girls are in front of everybody."
Jimenez, a former long-time employee, said men at AMR continuously made inappropriate comments about her body.
Supervisors also perpetrated harassment, according to Jimenez, who remembered an occasion when she requested a larger size shirt from a manager.
"He refused to (give me a larger shirt) because, he said, 'What's wrong with your shirt being too tight?'" Jimenez alleged.
Kalie Siciliano, who said she worked at AMR for three months in 2015, alleged a colleague asked her to show him her breasts while she was alone with him in an ambulance.
She was just 21 at the time, she said, and felt uncomfortable, pressured and fearful of what would happen if she did not comply. But she regretted it, she said, and when a similar encounter with a different man who worked there took place some time later, she refused.
As for Broggi, she claimed in her lawsuit she also faced sexual harassment at the hands of a supervisor.
Not long after she joined AMR, the lawsuit alleges, the supervisor "grabbed (Broggi's) wrist and told her that he would do anything for her."
On another occasion, the supervisor "put his hand on Ms. Broggi's thigh while asking her if she wanted a bottle of water," the lawsuit says.
It describes a third incident when he allegedly insisted Broggi tuck in her shirt even though she stated she preferred not to.
"Thereafter, his eyes lingered over her chest area, and he said: 'I don't know why you didn't want to tuck your shirt in. Look how good you look now,'" per the lawsuit.
In court, AMR denied the allegations against the man, and said Broggi was asked to have her shirt tucked to maintain a "professional appearance."
After Hearst Connecticut Media shared these claims with AMR, the company issued a statement describing "an extensive internal process that includes specific actions on reporting and investigating (harassment) allegations."
"We strive to create a culture of respect and professionalism in all of our business units. We also continue to develop personnel who are critical in implementing a professional work environment in our operations and elsewhere," the company said.
Rooting out sexual harassment
Strategies to report and prevent sexual misconduct, so that all employees feel safe at work
Given how some of his colleagues behaved around coworkers, one current AMR employee worried about how they behave around patients.
"How are we employing all these people who can't be trusted?" he asked. "We're putting them in the back of an ambulance alone with sometimes unconscious people...It's very disgusting."
A few AMR New Haven employees have previously made headlines over sex crime accusations.
Mark Powell, a former AMR New Haven EMT, received a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman in 2011 in the back of an ambulance. The woman had been under his care and in and out of consciousness at the time of the assault. Powell declined to discuss the case.
Other cases were not related to workplace conduct at AMR.
In 2020, an EMT named Bryon Westcott pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree child molestation, according to documents from Providence Superior Court in Rhode Island. The offense took place on multiple occasions between 2004 and 2005, a criminal information sheet says.
Westcott received a prison sentence of 10 years to be suspended after two years, according to a docket in Rhode Island's online court database. He was released in January, Connecticut's sex offender registry shows. Wescott did not return a request for comment.
In August 2021, Branford police arrested 45-year-old Thomas Papa, a paramedic. He faces eight criminal charges, including counts of second-degree sexual assault, enticing a minor by a computer, commercial sexual abuse and risk of injury to a child, according to New Haven Superior Court records.
Papa, whose case remains pending, has pleaded not guilty to all counts, Connecticut's court database shows. His attorney declined comment.
This year, AMR New Haven Herschel Wadley, a man with "a known history of sexual harassment and violence against women," according to Broggi's lawsuit.
In 2018, police accused Wadley, a battalion chief for the New Haven Fire Department, of choking a woman in a store. They charged him with third-degree assault, but the case was dismissed after Wadley completed probation, the New Haven Independent reported.
In 2021, a sexual harassment investigation conducted by an outside firm and commissioned by New Haven found Wadley had "extremely poor sexual and physical boundaries with females."
Wadley, who had by then been promoted to deputy chief and retired ahead of his possible termination, denied allegations of inappropriate conduct at the time. He did not respond to requests for comment.
As of September, Wadley no longer worked at AMR, according to Broggi.
Hoping for change
Broggi says she was initially excited for her "real job" out of college when she started as an EMT at AMR in 2019. She was 22 years old, she said.
By September 2021, she felt "fed up" with how the company had dealt with her concerns. The following March, she took AMR to court with help from The TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, an initiative that says it "supports individuals who've experienced sexual harassment or retaliation at work to come forward to seek justice — and to protect others from similar behavior."
Current and former employees who worked for AMR said they hope Broggi's lawsuit triggers reforms at the company.
"I am in awe of the courage and bravery that it takes to take on AMR," said one former employee. "I'm hoping that it forces AMR to change."
Even with a strong support system and a close family, what Broggi went through "has been without a doubt the worst and most troubling experience of my entire life," Broggi said.
She felt "degraded" by the company, she said, calling AMR's "lack of response...a real slap in the face and disrespectful."
Deciding to go public was not easy. But to Broggi, it seemed the only way forward.
"It is extremely scary and extremely emotional," she said. But "I want to be a woman who empowers other women ... it seemed like going public was really the only way to drive the necessary change."
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