A federal judge this week green-lighted an anti-smoking advocate's latest 1st Amendment complaint against Councilman Ara Najarian,
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.
“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.
“On every application, it asks ‘Have you ever been terminated or asked to resign from a position,” he said.
Gallegos had worked as an anti-smoking and health advocate for various organizations for decades before losing his job at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.
Gallegos originally sought more than $15 million from multiple defendants. Of that amount, he sought $5.5 million from Najarian.
Gallegos originally named Friedman and Manoukian as co-defendants. However, neither of them was named in the amended complaint.
Gee ordered Gallegos to drop Glendale Adventist Medical Center and its chief executive, Kevin Roberts, from the lawsuit in May because he signed a contract with the hospital that he would deal with employee grievances through a mediation process delineated in an employee handbook.
Glendale has long had a complicated relationship with smoking rules in restaurants. In 2008, the city established a suite of anti-smoking rules, including limiting smoking to 25% of outdoor dining areas at restaurants, much to the chagrin of establishments that offer hookahs.
The council reviewed a proposal to lift the 25% rule near the end of last September but after getting an earful from anti-smoking advocates, decided to maintain the status quo. The next week, at a lightly attended meeting, Najarian proposed increasing the size of smoking sections at restaurants with large outdoor areas. His proposal passed on a 3-2 vote.