Paramedic sues county over sexual harassment allegations

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A Gaston County paramedic and breast cancer victim is suing county officials on allegations they failed to protect her from vicious sexual harassment.

An attorney for Abigail Wilson filed the lawsuit in Gaston County Superior Court Wednesday, citing negligence and battery against the co-worker who is accused of abusing Wilson.

Wilson was hired with Gaston County EMS in 2009. She said in September 2010, a doctor discovered tumors in her breast -- the same cancer her own mother died from at the age of 46.

According to the lawsuit, Wilson went to her superiors at Gaston County EMS and asked for intermittent medical leave while she underwent surgery to remove the tumors.

Wilson said her managers initially agreed, but she said 10 days later, she was fired.

Wilson filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Labor over her termination, and was eventually reinstated.

In the lawsuit, Wilson said from the moment she returned to work, she was mercilessly targeted by her co-workers and superiors.

"I think it embarrassed them when I came back. As far as I know, I'm the only person who's ever been fired and then reinstated and actually came back," Wilson said.

Wilson said she was frivolously written up by her superiors at EMS and passed over for promotions.

She was also assigned a new partner who began a pattern of sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit, including sending her graphic text messages while she was on the job and telling her he wanted to have sex with her.

"I was starting to receive nude pictures of him when we were at work. Once I stopped responding is whenever he started getting physical with me," Wilson said.

Wilson said her co-worker poked her, rubbed her and, at one point, even grabbed her legs and pulled her from the back of an ambulance.

"Whenever I got out, he pushed me up against the outside of the ambulance and was groping me," Wilson said, noting the abuse was witnessed by another EMS employee.

Wilson said in another alleged incident, her co-worker slapped her on her backside, an incident she claimed was captured on surveillance video at a local hospital.

In the lawsuit, Wilson alleged county officials were aware of the video and had even viewed it in her presence, but said nothing was done about the alleged abuse.

"Shockingly, even with video evidence they decided not to terminate this employee," said Josh Van Kampen, Wilson's attorney.

Wilson said multiple complaints to her superiors at Gaston County EMS went unheeded, and said management discouraged her from contacting the county Human Resources Office.

Wilson said HR became involved when another EMS employee witnessed an incident where a co-worker trapped Wilson in a storage closet. After a complaint was filed, Wilson said Gaston County HR did a cursory investigation.

According to the lawsuit, county officials moved the co-worker in question to a different shift.

Wilson said she continued to see him on the job, and the harassment continued.

"He called me a lot of names, threw keys at me a couple times, told me I had caused him a lot of problems," Wilson said.

Wilson, a mother of three young children, said the final straw came after an 11-month-old patient died on an ambulance run to the hospital, and another co-worker moved to comfort her.

"I was at the hospital crying, and he hugged me in the parking lot," Wilson said.

Wilson said weeks later, her superiors learned of the incident, and wrote her up for "third party sexual harassment" for receiving the hug.

That is what prompted Wilson, who is still employed as a paramedic, to seek legal action.

"I really just hope that the county understands that they can't continue to treat people this way. I feel hugely let down. I don't know how else to put to. I feel they've let me down at every turn," Wilson said.

Eyewitness News called county officials Wednesday for comment, but they did not call back.

A lawyer who is representing Gaston County in the lawsuit said they do not comment on pending litigation.