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Lawsuit: Paramedic fired for telling truth

Paramedic claims she was fired as retaliation for telling city authorities her colleague was driving ambulance while intoxicated.

A PARAMEDIC has sued her former employer, who she claims canned her after she reported to city authorities that a colleague drove their ambulance while drunk.

Valerie Sakr, 35, of Devon, Chester County, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit Monday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court against EMStar Medical Transport, the company that fired her, and Keystone Quality Transport Co., the Springfield, Delaware County-based company that merged with EMStar this year.

Sakr, who began working for EMStar in April 2013, showed up for work one morning last November to find her partner, an emergency-medical technician assigned to drive their ambulance, smelling of alcohol, according to the lawsuit. She told her bosses she believed he was intoxicated, but her supervisors told the duo to hit the road anyway, according to the lawsuit. Within minutes, the allegedly drunken driver nearly crashed the ambulance into another car, according to the lawsuit.

Her supervisors directed the pair to return to the office and ordered the driver to undergo a blood-alcohol test, which showed his blood-alcohol level as 0.07 percent, according to the lawsuit. A driver is considered legally drunk in Pennsylvania at 0.08 percent. But Sakr contends in her lawsuit that her colleague's blood-alcohol test wasn't performed until four hours after she first alerted her bosses that he was drunk, giving him time to sober up.

Sakr reported the incident to the Philadelphia Department of Health three days later, according to the lawsuit. Afterward, she claims in her lawsuit, her bosses suggested she resign, gave her unfavorable shifts, denied her vacation request, assigned her outdated equipment and fired her in February as retaliation.

Joseph Zupnik, CEO of EMStar Ambulance, said in a statement yesterday that Sakr's termination had nothing to do with the drunken-driving incident: "EMStar Ambulance has a zero-tolerance policy for drunk driving. When our driver was reported to be under the influence, we immediately removed him from the road. Once his blood-alcohol test showed he had been driving at 0.07, we fired him. Valerie did exactly the right thing in reporting the driver's condition. Her termination four months later precisely at the time EMStar and Keystone joined forces had no connection to this incident."