Conspiracy in Glendale, Hospital Worker Says | Courthouse News Service
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Conspiracy in Glendale, Hospital Worker Says

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Glendale City Council members conspired with a hospital to fire a hospital manager who wrote a letter to a newspaper editor criticizing the council for authorizing smoking sections in outdoor restaurants, the man claims in court.

Steven Gallegos sued Glendale Adventist Medical Center, three Glendale City Council members, and his supervisors at the hospital, in Superior Court, alleging conspiracy, wrongful firing and constitutional violations.

Gallegos claims the hospital fired him 11 days after his letter to the editor appeared in the Glendale News Press. It criticized defendant council members Ara Najarian, Laura Friedman and Rafi Manoukian, who had voted for the ordinance allowing smoking in limited areas in outdoor public places. The council passed the law by 3-2 vote.

Gallegos, then a program manager at the hospital, claims that after the newspaper printed his letter, "defendants Ara Najarian and/or Rafi Manoukian and/or Laura Friedman, acting under color of law and in their official capacities as councilpersons for the City of Glendale, California, used their office and influence upon GAMC, its President Kevin Roberts, its Director of Community Services Bruce Nelson, and plaintiff's immediate supervisor at GAMC, Martha Rivera, to insist upon and effect the termination of plaintiff's employment."

Roberts, Nelson and Rivera are all named as defendants.

Gallegos' letter to the editor, published on Oct. 6 this year, said: "The health of the citizens of Glendale has been sold out to private retail tobacco interests and the business owners who are eager to profit at the expense of our children, families and senior citizens who are susceptible to the toxins and poisons in secondhand tobacco smoke.

"Glendale's outdoor dining ordinance allowed smoking in up to 25% of the total outdoor dining area, regardless of size of the dining area, as long as there is sufficient space for a 10-foot buffer.

"At the Glendale City Council meeting on Oct. 2, the comprehensive smoke-free outdoor air ordinance that was introduced by Councilman Dave Weaver at the previous week's meeting was replaced by one offered by Councilman Ara Najarian, who introduced a three-tier ordinance:

"1. Outdoor dining areas under 2,000 square feet, up to 25% of the total outdoor dining area may be designated for smoking;

"2. Outdoor dining areas of 2,000 square feet to less than 5,000 square feet, up to 50% of the total outdoor dining area may be designated for smoking;

"3. Outdoor dining areas of 5,000 square feet or more, up to 66% of the outdoor area may be designated for smoking.

"The substitute ordinance was adopted with a 3-2 vote with Najarian, Laura Friedman and Rafi Manoukian approving, and Frank Quintero and Weaver dissenting.

"Citizens and visitors to Glendale are now going to be subjected to breathing tobacco smoke at every popular outdoor dining patio in the city.

"Even from a 25% smoking area, the tobacco smoke drifts and will affect 100% of the people. The smoke containing 70 known cancer-causing agents will end up in your lungs and in your body.

"I hope voters will remember this action next spring when Friedman and Najarian are both up for re-election to the City Council.

"Steven J. Gallegos, Glendale."

Gallegos says he wrote the letter "in his personal and individual capacity."

On Oct. 17, Nelson asked him if he wrote it, Gallegos says. When he acknowledged it, "Nelson stated to plaintiff that his employment with GAMC was therefore terminated, presented plaintiff with his final paycheck, and handed plaintiff a written notice of termination that had been signed by plaintiff's immediate supervisor Martha Rivera," the complaint states.

Gallegos claims that one or more City Council members abused the powers of office to get him fired.

"The actions of defendants Ara Najarian, Rafi Manoukian, Laura Friedman, Kevin Roberts, Bruce Nelson, and Martha Rivera were willfully and maliciously designed to, and had the effect of, chilling, deterring, preventing, or inhibiting plaintiff from the free exercise of his right of speech under the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and directly interfered with the exercise of that right by causing the termination of plaintiff's employment with GAMC," the complaint states.

As a program manager, Gallegos was responsible for "consulting with cities throughout the County of Los Angeles concerning municipal ordinances prohibiting tobacco smoking in outdoor public places," the complaint states.

Gallegos seeks punitive damages for conspiracy, constitutional violations, wrongful termination and for the "humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish" of it.

He is represented by David Romley, of Shadow Hills.

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