Ambulance Employee Says He Was Fired After Objecting to Inadequate PPE

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - An ambulance company employee who was asked to transport coronavirus patients sued his former employer today in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging he was fired for complaining he was given inadequate protective gear.

The suit filed on behalf of Rayan Melendez against Montebello-based Lifeline Ambulance alleges wrongful termination, discrimination and retaliation. He's seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

A dispatcher who answered the phone said there were no supervisors available for comment.

Melendez began working as an emergency medical technician for Lifeline in July 2019 and two months later was teamed with co-workers Kaitlin Wilson and Luis Guillen, a respiratory therapist, according to his court papers. His primary job duties included transporting patients between facilities and assessing patients prior to and during transportation.

On April 21, Melendez received a call regarding a possible COVID-19 patient, so he called the on-duty supervisor to say that he and his two colleagues  did not feel safe transporting the patient because the three had not yet received fitted N95 masks, the suit states.

“Lifeline had supplied plaintiff and his team with what they deemed to be `one size fits all masks,' but what were really `one size fits most,''' according to the complaint, which says Melendez tried on the mask and determined it was too large for his face because there was a gap under his chin in which he could fit two fingers.

On April 22, Melendez and Wilson received a call for a positive COVID-19 patient at the start of their shift, the suit states. After Melendez told his boss that he and Wilson would take the call if they were provided with a fitted N95 mask, the supervisor canceled the call, the suit says.

Melendez was summoned at the end of his shift to a meeting with two supervisors, one of whom told the plaintiff that he was not in trouble, butshould tape the bottom of the N95 masks in order to properly protect himself, according to the suit.

Melendez and Wilson received subsequent calls to transport coronavirus patients and continued to protest the lack of appropriate masks, the suit says.

“Plaintiff and Kaitlin Wilson made it very clear ... that they did not feel safe taking COVID-19 calls without proper personal protective equipment because it put their own safety and the safety of others at risk,'' the suit states.

Lifeline did not allow Melendez and Wilson to try on a variety of N95 models to find the best fit and ensure patient and employee safety, putting the company out of CDC guidelines for COVID-19, the suit alleges.

In May, Melendez and Wilson were called into separate meetings and notified they were being fired, the suit states.

“Plaintiff was informed Lifeline was terminating his employment due to insubordination and harassment, though they did not specify specific incidents,'' the suit states.

Melendez and Wilson refused to sign paperwork acknowledging their firing, the suit states.

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