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Court OKs 1st Amendment complaint against Najarian

Action was brought by no-smoking advocate who was fired by Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

September 12, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Steven Gallegos poses for the camera in Glendale on Wednessday, January 2, 2013. Gallegos has filed a lawsuit against Glendale Adventist Medical Center for firing him after he wrote a "Letter to the Editor" to the Glendale News-Press saying that three council members voted to reduce outdoor smoking restrictions. A federal judge this week green-lighted an anti-smoking advocate's latest 1st Amendment complaint against Councilman Ara Najarian.
Steven Gallegos poses for the camera in Glendale on Wednessday,… (Cheryl A. Guerrero…)

A federal judge this week green-lighted an anti-smoking advocate's latest 1st Amendment complaint against Councilman Ara Najarian, whom the advocate claims got him fired from Glendale Adventist Medical Center because he spoke out against Najarian's proposal to loosen smoking rules at restaurants.

Although the city, representing Najarian, had asked U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee to throw out the complaint, in an order published Tuesday she denied the city's request due to new facts outlined by Steven Gallegos, the anti-smoking advocate.

“The new facts contained in the [complaint], taken as true, establish that Najarian deprived plaintiff of a constitutional right by causing his termination from [Glendale Adventist Medical Center] in retaliation for his exercise of his rights under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Gee wrote in her order.

While city officials are disappointed with the decision, they were not completely surprised, said City Atty. Mike Garcia, adding that at this stage, it would be too early for the judge to dismiss the complaint.

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“Based on our understanding of the actual facts, however, the basic allegation is untrue and we are confident we will be able to get out at the next stage of the litigation,” Garcia said in an email.

In May, Gee had dismissed Gallegos' original multi-million dollar complaint filed in December 2012 because it lacked evidence, but she allowed him to amend and resubmit it with new facts, which he did in June.

In the amended complaint, Gallegos' attorney focused on the city's close relationship with the hospital and Gallegos' claim that his boss told him Najarian insisted on his firing.

Gallegos, who was a tobacco outreach worker for Glendale Adventist, lost his job in October. The termination came after he wrote a letter that was published in the Glendale News-Press critical of Najarian, Councilwoman Laura Friedman and former Councilman Rafi Manoukian for voting to lighten smoking restrictions at restaurants with large outdoor dining areas.

It also came after he had received a 3% merit raise in September.

“This is the right of citizens to bear their grievances to the city government and if we don't have that, people are muted,” Gallegos said by phone this week.

He is still looking for a job and said his firing is making it difficult to find one, he said.

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