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Fire chief sues Stockton for religious discrimination

A former fire chief for the city of Stockton has filed a wrongful termination suit against the city, the city manager and the deputy city manager. The man claims that he was a victim of religious discrimination.

The 49-year-old man was fired in late 2011. He is suing for an unspecified amount of damages. The man had been with the Stockton Fire Department for 24 years, and he became the chief in 2006. When he was fired, the man was presented with a long list of complaints from a formal internal investigation, according to court records.

The most egregious violation of the rules that the man committed was attending a Christian-affiliated leadership conference while he was technically still on duty. According to city attorneys, that activity violated the express regulations prohibiting employees from attending religious-themed events while on taxpayers' payroll.

The man's attorneys claim that he obtained authorization to attend the leadership conference. He was told by his supervisors that he needed to improve his leadership skills, and he chose the conference in question after extensive research. Legal representatives have said that the city should not have fired the man simply because of his conference choice.

Internal investigation documents also cited the man's relationship with union leaders and his soft stance on discipline. The former chief had failed to disclose his co-ownership of a vacation property with one of the union leaders. He also had failed to disclose that one of the department's consultants worked with him to build a church school.

Financial difficulties for the city of Stockton have slowed the predicted outcome of the case. A hearing slated to occur on July 2 in Sacramento may not be permitted to continue, primarily because the city is planning to declare bankruptcy by the end of June. If that happens, Stockton would become the nation's largest municipality to ever declare bankruptcy, according to official records. If that happens, then the lawsuit would be put on hold indefinitely.

Source: The Record, "Fired Calif. chief claims religious discrimination," Roger Phillips, June 15, 2012

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