A former employee has filed a federal lawsuit against the St. Francois County Ambulance District, employees of the ambulance district, as well as several members of the ambulance board alleging wrongful termination and violation of other constitutional rights.
Marc Mucci, a former ambulance district employee, filed the suit on Monday with the Missouri Eastern District Court in St. Louis. Named in the suit are Ambulance District Administrator David Tetrault, Board Chairman David Kater, Board Vice-Chairman Sonja Hampton, Board Treasurer Susie Webb, Board Secretary Ron Kennon, board member Laura Moran, and board member Stan Souden.
The allegations in the case according to the court document are first that Mucci was hired by the ambulance district in May 2009 as a part-time EMT and subsequently became full-time in 2012. The document states that Mucci was promoted to paramedic in the fall of 2018 and that in the 10 years he worked for the district he had an excellent employment record.
The document states that the International Association of Firefighters, Local 3705 is a labor organization comprised of uniformed employees who work for the ambulance district and Farmington Fire Department. Mucci served as the elected president of the organization.
The suit also notes that the St. Francois County Ambulance District is a party to Federal Emergency Management Agency and contracts to deploy personnel and equipment outside its jurisdiction to support disaster relief efforts coordinated by FEMA.
According to the court document, on Nov. 26, the ambulance board held a public meeting. Mucci states that he addressed the board in his capacity as president of the Local 3705 and requested that a previously denied grievance be re-opened that had reported that Tetrault had failed to follow a provision of the collective bargaining agreement when awarding shifts for what had been a recent deployment under the FEMA contract. The grievance was re-opened and then denied again on Oct. 2.
The grievance stated that Tetrault had hand-picked the individuals to be deployed under the FEMA contract which included himself and other salaried administrative personnel.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges that in September 2018 Mucci had filed a request to renegotiate a provision in the contract between the ambulance district and the Local 3705 concerning an education requirement for ambulance district employees.
Mucci said that the district was not providing classes that complied with the American Heart Association’s standard. Mucci asked the board to lay aside the educational requirements since they were unable to provide the required courses. Mucci addressed his concerns in an executive session meeting of the board on Sept. 26.
The lawsuit states that Mucci had discovered that the board had compensated salaried employees in amounts greater than their salaries which were higher costs than if the board had sent regular, hourly, bargaining unit employees and paid them the overtime. Mucci alleges that salaried employees should not have been paid hourly rates for deployments and questioned why these salaried employees were paid different rates of pay for varying deployments.
In addition, Mucci questioned whether the district’s in-house driving classes were sufficient to meet the FEMA contract standards.
The suit alleges that following the open board meeting, Mucci was pulled into the executive session and aggressively questioned regarding his comments and felt that the board members were personally attacking him.
Following the board meeting, Mucci received an email from Medical Director Bruce Harrison stating that the board felt that Mucci’s role as Local 3705 president was having a negative impact on patient care and the email asked Mucci to step down as Local 3705 president.
The suit states that in subsequent communication, Harrison suggested that Mucci consult his physician about his level of stress. Harrison also told Mucci that “all this political stuff is not effective patient care” and then advised Mucci that Tetrault had other concerns regarding his performance besides patient care.
According to the court document, on Nov. 30, Mucci was placed on paid administrative leave. Mucci contacted Harrison and Harrison advised him that a Facebook post he had made was against department policy.
The court document states that on Dec. 5, Mucci attended a meeting with Tetrault and was provided a document that appeared to be from the board stating that Mucci was requested to have an “optional” mental health evaluation within 30 days and that Mucci was to remain on paid administrative leave for that time period.
According to the court document, other employees had admitted to struggling with depression and feeling suicidal directly to administration and neither of these employees had been required to take leave or undergo any type of examination to demonstrate fitness for duty.
On Dec. 18, Mucci sent an email to Harrison, Tetrault, and Kater informing them he had undergone an initial assessment but that it would be at least six weeks before he could undergo the mental health evaluation because his situation was not deemed emergent. That evening Mucci spoke with Harrison by phone at which time Harrison acknowledged the difficulty of obtaining mental health appointments.
Mucci sent an email on Dec. 19 stating that the psychiatrist had scheduled his evaluation for Jan. 17. On Dec. 28, Mucci was informed by the district’s scheduling system that he had been placed on paid leave through Jan. 13.
On Jan. 7, Mucci received a letter from the board terminating his employment citing that it was because of his failure to comply with the 30-day deadline for obtaining a psychiatric evaluation. On Jan. 29, Mucci filed a grievance with the ambulance district which was denied on Jan. 29.
Mucci appealed the denial of the grievance on Feb. 1 and on Feb. 28 received a letter stating his appeal was denied and that the “termination decision stands.” This letter was signed by Kater. Mucci still serves as president of Local 3705 and his term ends Dec. 31, 2020.
The counts of the lawsuit are as follows: Count 1, unlawful retaliation in violation of the first and fourteenth amendment rights to freedom of speech; Count 2, unlawful retaliation in violation of the first and fourteenth amendment rights to freedom of association; Count 3, violations of Missouri Constitutional Law (freedoms of speech and assembly/association); Count 4, unlawful retaliation of the right to freedom of association under Missouri Statute; Count 5, unlawful disciplinary action in violation of Missouri Statute (retaliation for questioning practices that may be unlawful); and Count 6, wrongful discharge in violation of Missouri Public Policy (questioning compliance with FEMA contracts).
The suit requests that the court acknowledge the violations of Mucci’s Constitutional rights and enter a permanent injunction ordering the defendants to cease the continuing denial of Mucci’s legal rights.
In addition, the suit requests that the defendants be ordered to rescind Mucci’s termination and immediately reinstate him to his position with the ambulance district and to expunge and correct any files that refer to Mucci’s fitness for duty.
The document also requests a complete and accurate accounting of all compensation to which Mucci may be entitled and requests that the court order damages including back pay, benefits, etc. and also punitive damages for harm to Mucci’s reputation, for humiliation, and for emotional and mental suffering. The plaintiff also requests that the defendants be ordered to pay all court costs and attorney’s fees associated with this action.
The Daily Journal made attempts to reach Tetrault but was unable to make contact with him on Tuesday afternoon.
Matt McFarland is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616.