In a new lawsuit, a former Woodbury paramedic said he was retaliated against for refusing to sedate a citizen with ketamine, and that the city’s public safety leadership falsified training records for police and firefighters required for medical certification — a practice known as the boss using his “magic pen.”
Last year, a police sergeant ordered the paramedic, Joseph Baker, to sedate a citizen with ketamine, which Baker refused to do because he didn’t think the shot was the right course of treatment, according to the civil complaint filed in federal court Monday.
After reporting these issues, Baker’s supervisors retaliated against him, labeling him a “whistle blower” in e-mails, placing him on a disciplinary plan and in one case threatening him with physical harm, according to the lawsuit. Baker quit his job last December in response.
“As a direct result of Plaintiff Baker’s reporting of unlawful irregularities in the EMS, he was subjected to discipline,” the lawsuit reads. “It was clear that the disciplinary measure was to create a situation that would force Plaintiff Baker to quit his job and an environment where no other reasonable employee would report any such wrongdoings in the future.”
Joseph E. Flynn and Vicki A. Hruby, attorneys representing the city in the lawsuit, dispute all of Baker’s claims, saying he was never disciplined or subject to retaliation. They said city officials internally reviewed its Emergency Medical Services training records and protocols.
“Contrary to the allegations in the Complaint, no training records were falsified and Mr. Baker’s complaints were properly addressed. Further, an independent review was conducted by Regions Hospital and found that the City of Woodbury’s training was, in fact, in compliance with all licensing requirements,” they said in a statement. However, a spokesperson for Regions said they did not conduct an independent review.
Flynn and Hruby also disputed Baker’s claims regarding ketamine use.
“With regard to the administration of any medications, such as ketamine, a medical professional determines whether the intervention is medically warranted under the circumstances. No employee of the City of Woodbury improperly administered any such medications.”
Baker, a former military police officer who lives in Inver Grove Heights, started working as a paramedic for Woodbury in 2018. The city offers a 7% raise for firefighters and police who complete Emergency Medical Services training. In the lawsuit, Baker said he and another employee were asked to teach a paramedic refresher course, and in doing so they learned some people had been certified without actually attending training in the past.
Baker feared untrained workers practicing as EMS could be a threat to public safety, and failing to speak up could jeopardize his own license. In May 2019, Baker and another paramedic wrote a letter to the executive chair of Minnesota’s EMS regulatory board detailing “deficiencies and inconsistencies” with the city’s training records. Baker’s attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, provided the e-mails to the Star Tribune.
In one case, Baker wrote, three employees were given credit for a 30-hour course, but the instructor listed told Baker he never taught the class.
Baker sent another letter that same day to his supervisor containing the same complaints.
Both Woodbury public safety leadership and the state board ignored his concerns, according to the lawsuit, and his supervisors became upset that Baker had made the complaints.
One EMS supervisor told Baker: “You’re lucky I couldn’t get my hands around your throat on Thursday,” according to the lawsuit.
Baker “was shocked and afraid for his safety and his job,” the complaint states. “The City of Woodbury human resources as well as the EMS leadership were aware of the event but took no corrective action,” and instead blamed Baker for going above their heads.
Baker also reported an incident to his supervisors that occurred on Sept. 22, 2019, in which a police sergeant ordered him to “draw up” a ketamine shot for a citizen. Baker believed the sedative would “deviate from the standard of care expected from a reasonable paramedic,” according to the lawsuit. He was “aware of the public outcry against police officers for compelling paramedics to administer sedatives upon unwilling citizens,” following controversy over reports that Minneapolis police routinely urged paramedics to do so.
In November, the city put Baker on a “progressive improvement plan,” a graduated disciplinary measure. In an e-mail, one supervisor requested Baker’s records reflect he was put on the plan for being a “whistle blower.”
The supervisor wrote that an upcoming meeting with Baker would “validate any issues [Baker] has interpreted with past education and put finality to this issue.”
According to the lawsuit, this meeting was “a ploy to intimidate and discipline” Baker.