Alex McNabb is an EMT in Virginia. He’s also a prominent white supremacist who has frequently cohosted a neo-Nazi podcast called “The Daily Shoah” (i.e., holocaust) and referred to black people as “animals,” by the slur “dindus,” and in one case as “Harambe.”
When the Huffington Post broke that story December 8, firing McNabb seemed like a no-brainer. But that’s not what happened. Instead his employer—the J.E.B. Stuart Volunteer Rescue Squad—hunkered down, shuttered its Facebook, and ignored interview requests. It finally announced on December 12 that McNabb had been suspended, though he apparently remains in the organization’s employ.
Until the department’s leadership speaks, we can’t know why. Certainly they would face no legal barrier to dumping such an embarrassment.
“There’s no legal protection for neo-Nazis, racists, and hatemongers in the workplace,” says attorney Doug Wolfberg, a founding member of the prominent EMS law firm Page, Wolfberg, & Wirth. “They’re not a protected class under the law, so employers have fairly wide latitude to address this type of conduct among employees, even if it’s off duty.”
An attorney for the rescue squad, Wren Williams, told CNN he’d “cautioned against firing [McNabb] outright because we don’t want to be sued for wrongful termination.”1 However, not only are racists unprotected by civil rights law, Virginia is an at-will employment state, meaning employers can fire employees at any time without reason or notice.
The J.E.B. Stuart statement said McNabb was on unpaid administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation into his conduct by the Virginia Office of EMS. It acknowledged the commonwealth’s Department of Health has received at least three complaints about him.
McNabb insists he’s treated all patients professionally, the podcast is “political-satire comedy,” and the tales he tells as its “Dr. Narcan” are fiction. In a 2016 episode, however, he described an ER patient and a physician and told his cohosts, “both these stories are real.” And later in the same podcast, he claimed to have intentionally inflicted fear and pain on a misbehaving black child who needed blood drawn. “Guess who volunteered to take his blood?” McNabb said. “Dr. Narcan enjoyed great, immense satisfaction as he terrorized this youngster with a needle and stabbed him thusly in the arm with a large-gauge IV catheter.”
True or not, that claim alone would be enough to cost an EMT his job in many systems. Most critically it undermines public trust. Given McNabb’s overall conduct, not-exactly-secret identity, and the tepid organizational response, any minority patient treated by J.E.B. Stuart now has grounds to question the quality and intent of their care.
“Clearly this department now, if it wasn’t before, is on notice that they have a person in their ranks who has exhibited animus toward certain members of the population,” says Wolfberg. “If it ever came up that a patient alleged they were not treated appropriately or were treated outside the standard of care, and that person happened to fall into a group this employee has exhibited animus against, the employer’s going to have a tough time defending why they didn’t take action sooner.”
Elsewhere in southern Virginia there’s more outrage. Lock Boyce, chair of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, has said he will demand McNabb’s firing and without it will seek to suspend all county funds to the rescue squad.
The state health department’s investigation will look for violations of Virginia EMS regulations. Those don’t typically address morals or values, but Virginia’s do prohibit any type of discrimination. That is expected to be complete by late January.
One thing the Stuart squad should be doing in the interim is thorough QA on all McNabb’s case reports, looking for potential substandard care or deviations from protocol with minority patients. Beyond that, it needs some major crisis management.
“Really it’s reaffirming, through public statements of the leadership of the organization, that they do not tolerate discrimination or hate or bias against any group; that they serve the public 24/7/365 without regard to religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or any other factor; and that they do not condone this and have taken the following actions,” says Wolfberg. “If they care at all about their reputation in the public eye, those are the kinds of things they should be saying.
“But really, instead of getting too mired in legal stuff, I would just say, look, right is right and wrong is wrong. Employers shouldn’t feel hamstrung under the law and get tripped up over whether they have the legal right to take action against an employee. This is a clear case of an employee who frankly has no business working in public safety, where the confidence of the public in their caregivers needs to be high.”