'Very disturbing' officials say of lawsuit alleging sexist culture at Conn. AMR branch
Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett said wants to be sure company changes and that she asked the fire chief to tell members to speak up if they witness misconduct
By Meghan Friedmann
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Local officials in recent days voiced concern over allegations of workplace sexual assault and harassment at a New Haven-based ambulance company that were detailed in a Hearst Connecticut Media Group investigation.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker called the claims made by current and former employees of the American Medical Response branch "very disturbing" and he "spoke with AMR to discuss the issues that have surfaced and to express his concerns," according to a city spokesperson.
Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett called the allegations "awful" and said she and the town's fire chief plan to meet with company officials next week.
"We're going to have a conversation with AMR about guarantees that they've changed the culture," she said.
Garrett also said she asked the fire chief to emphasize to Hamden's firefighters and paramedics, who sometimes respond to calls with AMR, to speak up if they witness misconduct.
As the primary ambulance service provider for New Haven and Hamden, AMR New Haven employs over 400 EMTs and paramedics who respond to about 100,000 calls per year, according to its website.
As described in Hearst Connecticut Media's report published Nov. 22, Anna Broggi, an EMT at the branch, filed a lawsuit in Connecticut federal court in March alleging AMR supervisors mishandled and downplayed her sexual assault complaint against a colleague.
The lawsuit described AMR New Haven as an organization that allows sexual harassment to take place with impunity; Broggi claimed to have also been subject to inappropriate behavior at the hands of a supervisor. The lawsuit further alleged that one company employee sexually harassed multiple women before he was forced to resign.
AMR denied the claims of sexual harassment and assault in legal filings. It 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 addition to the lawsuit, six current and former branch employees told Hearst Connecticut Media they had either directly experienced or witnessed sexual harassment. One described the culture as "a giant cesspool."
The workers also pointed to previous criminal accusations against AMR New Haven employees pertaining both to on- and off-duty behavior as further cause for concern about the company's culture and standards.
Over the past decade police accused at least three men who worked for AMR New Haven 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 day Hearst Connecticut Media's investigation published online, AMR New Haven's regional director Bill Schietinger sent an internal memo to employees.
"You may have seen a recent media report regarding some issues facing our operation in years past," Schietinger wrote. "When I joined the New Haven team in December of 2019, I committed to helping build a culture where every person feels safe and is heard."
It said that in the past two years, the New Haven team had "worked hard to improve our workplace." The branch reorganized its leadership team "to provide more support in the field," improved employee access to leaders, created a peer support team and established weekly operations meetings with "a defined part of the agenda dedicated to culture improvement," the memo said.
In a statement this week to Hearst Connecticut Media, an AMR spokesperson added that the company completes background checks on new hires and provides "pathways for not only investigating complaints but reporting them," including through an anonymous compliance hotline.
"We apply the appropriate level of discipline and will terminate employees if substantiated through our investigative processes," the statement said.
Company officials, citing the pending litigation, declined to answer specific questions about whether employees named in Broggi's lawsuit still worked for the company and whether AMR planned to conduct an internal review of the allegations.
Elicker, New Haven's mayor, said in a statement, "Everyone has the right to a professional, safe and harassment-free workplace, and it is incumbent upon AMR to ensure this exists for their employees and patients and to take appropriate action in response to these claims."
"If allegations of any inappropriate conduct against city contractors are substantiated, the city reserves the right to take additional action," Elicker said.
He encouraged people who "have concerns about acts of sexual assault, misconduct or other possible criminal offenses" to contact police.
Hamden's fire chief Jeffrey Naples said that following Hearst Connecticut Media's report, he met with two AMR supervisors who assured him they take the allegations seriously and the company's policies do not tolerate sexual harassment.
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Naples plans to meet with AMR officials next week, along with Garrett.
Garrett did not rule out that the town may take action to try to address its concerns but said she wanted to meet with company officials first.
A spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which oversees emergency medical service providers in the state, did not answer questions about whether the agency was aware of the allegations and planned to review them.
According to its website, AMR New Haven provides transport services for Yale New Haven Health and the VA medical center, which is located in West Haven.
A statement from a Yale New Haven Health spokesperson said officials there were "aware of the lawsuit against AMR."
"The allegations made in the article, if proven, are completely inconsistent with our values," it said
A spokesperson for the West Haven VA Medical Center did not respond to requests for comment.
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