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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Former Stockton Fire Chief files wrongful termination lawsuit

The former Fire Chief for the city of Stockton, California, is claiming he was the victim of religious discrimination and was wrongfully terminated. The wrongful termination suit was filed against the Stockton City Manager and Deputy City Manager as well as the city. As many in California may have heard, the city of Stockton is heading towards bankruptcy, which could put the final outcome of the case well into the future.

The lawsuit lists unspecified damages and a trial date has yet to be determined. Sources say due to circumstances the trial is unlikely to begin until late next year. The city is currently working through mediation trying to reach a settlement with its creditors. If the city is unsuccessful in its mediation attempts it will be forced to file for bankruptcy and will become the nation's largest city to declare insolvency.

If the city's bankruptcy becomes a reality attorneys for both sides say the lawsuit would most likely be put on hold indefinitely. The case against the individuals could move forward, but it is not ideal to have multiple trials, according to the plaintiff's attorney. A hearing is scheduled for early July in which the defense will argue for the dismissal of six of the nine causes of action in the wrongful termination suit.

The plaintiff served in the Stockton Fire Department for 24 years and became the chief in 2006. After an internal investigation he was fired at the end of September of last year. According to the termination letter he received, the city claimed that the plaintiff attended a Christian leadership conference while on duty with the fire department. City attorneys said that was in violation of a policy which prohibits city employees being from attending religiously themed events while being paid by the city.

The plaintiff's attorneys responded by stating that the only reason the plaintiff attended the conference, and paid for it on his own, was because the chief was told by the Deputy City Manager that he needed to improve his leadership skills and should attend a leadership training seminar. The chief's attorney said the city simply did not like the leadership seminar his client picked and unlawfully terminated him based on that choice.

Although there have been no discussions regarding a possible settlement in the case, an out of court resolution has not been ruled out by either side.

Source: Firehouse, "Fired Calif. Chief Claims Religious Discrimination," Roger Phillips, June 15, 2012

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