Antioch Rescue Squad accused of harassment in lawsuit

Three women are suing the Antioch Rescue Squad claiming they suffered frequent sexual harassment and saw rescuers tending to patients while intoxicated during a four-year period.

The federal lawsuit, filed in February, contends rescue department employee Shannon Volling and former employees Julie Banser and April Soulak complained to supervisors about the harassment but were ignored, their attorney, Megan O'Malley, said Tuesday.

Attorney Martin LaPointe of Chicago, who is representing the Antioch Rescue Squad, would not discuss the case, except to say a motion to dismiss has been filed in federal court.

“I don't think it's appropriate to try cases in the media,” Lapointe said. “But, obviously, we vigorously dispute all the allegations.”

The Antioch Rescue Squad covers Antioch village and township.

The lawsuit officially names the Antioch Rescue Squad, Metro Paramedics and Metro's parent company, Superior Air Ground Ambulance Services Inc., as defendants. No individual employees or Antioch Rescue Squad board members are named in the suit.

Antioch Rescue Squad Chief Wayne Sobczak, who also is president of the Antioch-Lake Villa Area High School District 117 board, would not comment. He directed all calls to attorneys.

Antioch Rescue Squad Board President Steve Smouse, who also serves as Antioch Township supervisor, also directed inquiries to LaPointe.

Volling and Banser began working at the rescue squad in 2008, and Soulak was hired in 2010, the lawsuit states.

It contends all three were sexually harassed by some of the male paramedics while working at the rescue squad. The harassment included being groped by fellow squad members, forced to endure public lewd discussions, and fending off numerous unwanted sexual advances, the lawsuit states.

For example, Banser claimed she had her pants pulled down in front of co-workers, then had her private body parts described to colleagues. Volling claimed pictures of her chest were enlarged and placed in shared work stations. She also saw employees viewing pornographic materials while on duty, according to the suit.

The lawsuit also contends some supervisors and board members engaged in sexual relations at the rescue station, and transported a patient while intoxicated or hung over.

O'Malley said the original complaint against the rescue squad was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April 2011. The case moved to federal court in July before being refiled when it was amended in February 2012.

The Antioch Rescue Squad is a private, not-for-profit corporation, Smouse said, and elects its own board of directors from within its membership to serve 2-year terms. It has acted independently since 1940.

However, Antioch village officials are trying to change that.

The village board decided Monday to negotiate a contract that would allow trustees to regulate and oversee operation of the squad. Currently, all that is in place is a lease agreement.

The rescue squad receives free dispatch services, rented space and payment of fuel expenses from the village, but officials have no control over its day-to-day operation.

The contract could potentially give the village some say over management decisions, such as subcontracting and insurance. It could also provide village access to financial and operating records.

Mayor Lawrence Hanson and Trustee Dennis Crosby said the effort to impose village controls is not related to the lawsuit, but the suit is an example of the type of problems that can be avoided with oversight.

“We don't want surprises. This kind of thing is what we don't want to have happen,” Crosby said.

Crosby, who heads the board's public safety committee, said much of what will need to be included in the contract has been negotiated and agreed upon, but rescue squad officials have been reluctant to have controls placed on their organization.

“We need to have a bit more oversight than we have now, which right now is none,” he said. “You can't be part of the solution if you don't know about the problem.”

He said he expects a contract proposal will be presented to the board in June.

Hanson declined to comment on the lawsuit, stating it is “in the hands of the court” and “not our issue.”

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