Philly fire union demanding more documents about sexual misconduct

 Local 22 President Joe Schulle discusses a sexual misconduct investigation by the city's Office of the Inspector General. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Local 22 President Joe Schulle discusses a sexual misconduct investigation by the city's Office of the Inspector General. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s firefighters union could file a civil lawsuit against the city seeking to obtain more information in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct that have implicated seven union members.

Union attorney Regina Hertzig said it is conceivable that the firefighters sue to receive a full, unredacted report outlining disciplinary charges triggered by complaints from a female paramedic.

But before taking the battle to the courts, Hertzig said the union will first exhaust all other means of getting the complete report from city officials, including applying pressure through media coverage.

In a Friday news conference, Firefirghters Union Local 22 president Joe Schulle said the fact that the full report has not been provided is “a source of deep frustration, given the seriousness of these allegations.”  His comments today confirmed that discipline is pending.  The Philadelphia Daily News first reported the allegations.

Schulle said the report spelled out allegations of improper sexual relations involving 15 male employees and a female paramedic.  At least one case accused a firefighter of having sex in a fire station while on duty. But only seven are being charged and face punishment, including possible termination.

According the Daily News account, the female paramedic at the center of the case is “mentally troubled” and was preyed upon by her colleagues.

Union president Schulle, however, paints a different picture. He said some of the charges, which trace back to 2011, include sex that was off-duty and consensual.  He disputes that sexual activity ever occurred in a firehouse.

Why there were no charges filed against eight other employees who were reported to be involved is among the questions left unanswered in the redacted report, Schulle said. Other accusations of sexual misconduct, he said, were left incomplete and need further clarification in order for the union to properly defend against the charges.

“We can’t speculate as to what they are covering up or hiding, but, as I said, our perception is there must be something in the report they don’t want us to see,” Schulle said.

The department does not have a policy against fraternization, he said.

“Women have been in the Philadelphia Fire Department for 30 years. There’s been plenty of time to development this kind of policy, and there’s been plenty of relationships, supervision-subordinate relationships, that would have provided the department, OK we have to address this issue. Yet it was never addressed until something like this occurs.”

When the female paramedic was brought in the department’s headquarters for questioning, Schulle contends she was coerced to file a complaint. And furthermore, the union alleges department staff informed her that she could not have an attorney present and did not need to have a union representative present. All of that led the union to have “significant concerns about the administration’s handling of the situation from the onset.”

According to Schulle, the fire department is contemplating disciplinary charges against the victim, who he said is experiencing anguish over the whole ordeal.

“She’s having a difficult time. There’s a lot of negative publicity, and a lot of accusations being thrown around,” Schulle said. “She’s having a tough time. She’s getting through it.”

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