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Anti-smoking advocate says hospital fired him for speaking out

January 3, 2013 | 11:06 am

Anti-smoking advocate Steven GallegosA longtime anti-smoking advocate has filed a multimillion-dollar wrongful termination lawsuit against Glendale Adventist Medical Center, as well as three City Council members 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 last fall against the City Council for loosening smoking restrictions for restaurants with large outdoor seating areas.

According to the lawsuit — filed Dec. 24 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.

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.

Najarian, Friedman and Manoukian all denied the allegations.

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. There was a proposal to lift a rule limiting smoking to 25% of outdoor dining areas in late September, but after anti-smoking advocates spoke in support of maintaining the status quo, the council moved to keep things as is.

But the next week, at a lightly attended council meeting, Najarian introduced a new ordinance that would expand the size of smoking areas for restaurants with bigger patios. Friedman and Manoukian supported the change, and it became law.

A few days later, Gallegos sent his letter to the News-Press calling on voters to remember the council members who had voted for the change, especially with elections coming up in April. He was subsequently fired.

Not long after that, the News-Press printed a letter from Bruce Nelson, director of community services at Glendale Adventist, that publicly chided Gallegos and another outreach worker for speaking out of turn.

The other worker was not fired.

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-- Brittany Levine, TCN

Photo: Steven Gallegos. Credit: Cheryl Guerrero / Glendale News Press

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