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Anti-smoking advocate claims Glendale City Council members pressured hospital to fire him

January 03, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
(Cheryl Guerrero/Staff…)

A longtime anti-smoking advocate has filed a multimillion-dollar wrongful termination lawsuit against Glendale Adventist Medical Center, as well as three City Council members who he alleges used their political influence to get him fired.

Steven Gallegos was terminated from his job as a tobacco outreach worker in October after he spoke out publicly against the City Council in fall 2012 for loosening smoking restrictions for restaurants with large outdoor seating areas.

According to the lawsuit — filed the day before Christmas in Los Angeles County Superior Court — Gallegos is seeking more than $5 million each from the hospital, three Glendale Adventist officials and council members Ara Najarian, Laura Friedman and Rafi Manoukian.

Gallegos, who has been advocating for anti-smoking legislation for more than a decade, said in an interview that he was shocked when he was fired after writing a letter to the editor to the Glendale News-Press criticizing council members who had voted to loosen the restriction.

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Gallegos has long advocated for anti-smoking legislation, written many letters to the newspaper, and he claims he had never faced any discipline for these actions.

In September, Gallegos said in an interview, he received a 3% merit wage increase. In May, Kevin Roberts, Glendale Adventist’s chief executive, sent him a hand-written card congratulating him for his good work.

“My heart was broken,” Gallegos said of his termination. “The local and national reputation that I have was tossed out the window and I really feel that politics got in the way of public health.”

Glendale Adventist spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez said the hospital does not disclose personnel issues and had not received a copy of the lawsuit.

Gallegos’ attorney, David Romley, said he was waiting until after the holidays before notifying the hospital and council members.

Najarian, Friedman and Manoukian all denied the allegations listed in the lawsuit in interviews this week.

Najarian said he “obviously had no role in his firing” and looked forward to addressing “all the allegations in the appropriate forum.”

It all started when the council decided to review its 2008 fresh-air ordinance, which restricts smoking in outdoor dining areas and in common spaces of multi-unit housing.

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