Fired paramedic sues city for job, claims retaliation

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Testimony in two cases sparked her termination, she says.

A former Pittsburgh paramedic filed suit against the city in federal court Monday, saying she was fired last month in retaliation for her testimony in a court case involving the busing of her kindergarten-age son.

She also claims she'd been getting the cold shoulder from her bosses ever since she testified in a sexual harassment complaint in a case that led to sensitivity training for all city firefighters in 1997.

Christine Falascino of Overbrook, a paramedic for 17 years who said she was never disciplined before, was fired on Nov. 22.

In her suit, she says acting Public Safety Director Kathy Kraus and Emergency Medical Services Director Bob Kennedy suspended and then fired her because they said she lied at an Oct. 4 injunction hearing to force the city to bus her son to half-day kindergarten classes.

Falascino and her husband, Dominic, whose son Preston attends a Catholic school in Whitehall, had joined with the parents of two other children in filing suit against the city school district.

At a hearing before Common Pleas Judge David Cercone, Falascino testified that the district's failure to provide busing interfered with her ability to work the night shift as a paramedic because she had to get out of bed in the middle of the day to pick up her son.

At the time of the hearing, she said, she was on disability for a work-related injury.

The next day, Cercone ordered the city to bus the children.

After Falascino returned to work Nov. 17, she said, she received a notice saying she faced disciplinary action for false testimony at the hearing.

Falascino's attorney, Sam Cordes, said Kraus told Falascino that she gave the impression at the hearing that she was actively working as a paramedic when she wasn't. Cordes said Kraus violated Falascino's First Amendment rights by punishing her for testifying.

Kraus and Kennedy said they couldn't comment on the case and directed questions to city Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow. She couldn't be reached yesterday.

Falascino claims the city has had it in for her since she testified on behalf of fellow paramedic April Slifko in a sexual harassment case before the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations in 1996.

In that case, Slifko had filed a complaint saying male firefighters at the No. 36 fire station in Brighton Heights watched pornographic videos on duty and made sexually offensive remarks to women employees.

Falascino, who worked at the same station, didn't join in the complaint but supported Slifko's charges at hearings before the commission.

The city settled the claim in 1997 by awarding Slifko $11,000 in back pay and $15,000 in attorney's fees to Cordes, and by ordering all firefighters to receive training in what kinds of actions qualify as sexual harassment.

The settlement agreement also covered a 1997 suit Slifko filed in federal court.

Falascino said Kennedy stopped talking to her after her testimony in the harassment case, and Cordes said the strained history between Falascino and her employers led to later efforts to retaliate against her.

"The claim is that the reason [for the termination] is a pretext," said Cordes. "What they're mad about is the previous case."

Falascino's suit asks that she be reinstated and awarded compensatory and punitive damages.