Outreach Worker Claims He Was Fired by Adventist Hospital for Anti-Tobacco Activism
by AT News Team
Steven Gallegos has filed a lawsuit against Glendale Adventist Medical Center claiming that the hospital fired him because of pressure from local politicians after he spoke out against the loosening of an anti-smoking ordinance. “My heart was broken,” Gallegos told the Los Angeles Times and the Glendale News Press. “The local and national reputation that I have was tossed out the window. I really feel that politics got in the way of public health.”
The hospital provides regular programs to help patients stop smoking, and Gallegos was employed as an outreach worker for these programs. He told reporters that in May 2012 he received a hand-written note from the medical center’s chief executive, Kevin Roberts, affirming his work and in September he was given a three percent merit increase in wages.
Gallegos has been an advocate for anti-smoking legislation for more than a decade and says that he has written letters to the editor before without any negative comments from the hospital administration. In October the Glendale city council discussed amendments to an ordinance adopted in 2008, which limits smoking in the outdoor seating areas of restaurants and the common spaces of apartment houses. Gallegos spoke against it, and the council decided not to amend the ordinance, but at the next meeting, without anti-tobacco advocates present, three council members voted a new ordinance that weakened the restrictions.
The three Council members—Ara Najarian, Laura Friedman and Rafi Manoukian—were criticized for their actions in a letter that Gallegos wrote to the Glendale News Press. He says that he was fired for that letter because the elected official pressured the hospital administration to get rid of him. A hospital official did write a letter to the same newspaper not long after it published Gallegos’ letter, chiding Gallegos for his comments. Another hospital employee who did the same thing was also chided in the same letter, but has not been fired.
The politicians claim they had nothing to do with any action against Gallegos. A hospital representative told the newspapers that the hospital would not respond to questions about the case because it does not disclose personnel issues and had not received a copy of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, asks for $5 million each from the hospital, three top administrators and the three politicians. The suit is for “wrongful termination.” Adventist Today has asked a number of sources and discovered that Gallegos is evidently not a member of the Adventist Church, although he is clearly aligned with Adventist values on the issue of tobacco and public health.
“We only have one side of the story,” an Adventist management professional pointed out. “Who knows what else is involved here. It is not fair to jump to conclusions.”
“Adventist institutions are just as susceptible to political pressures as any other organization,” an Adventist theologian told Adventist Today. “Someone does need to ask the question of what kind of witness are we providing in this situation. This is an issue that has deep roots in Adventist heritage as well as important implications today.”