Fire chief loses job for attending church leadership conference – archyde

by Jorge Gomez • 6 minimum reading

First Liberty, along with attorneys Aaron Streett and Elisabeth Butler of Baker Botts LLP and the Church State Council, are defending fire chief Ron Hittle, a devout Christian who sought to live out his faith in the workplace. After 24 years of service, the city of Stockton, California fired him for attending a leadership conference held at a church.

This week, our legal teams filed a brief on his behalf with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We argued that the city’s actions are illegal under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects against religious discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This law clearly states that companies cannot fire or take adverse action against employees based on their religion.

Chief Hittle’s case adds to a growing list of major legal battles First Liberty is waging to protect religious employees. Religious discrimination in the workplace is a major issue, especially in this time of extreme cancel culture where companies continue to defy the law by punishing, demoting, harassing and firing workers for their beliefs and beliefs. convictions. The outcome of these cases will affect every person employed in faith and their protection under the law.

Under fire for his faith

Ron Hittle has served his community as a firefighter for over two decades. When he became fire chief in 2006, he did his best to improve service and lead his staff effectively.

Over a decade ago, the Deputy City Manager asked Chief Hittle to take leadership training. Chef Hittle heard about the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit from a business magazine, and he decided to attend because it was a renowned leadership seminar that featured a “pop-up business school” with stellar speakers from a variety of backgrounds, including his own Christian worldview. Chief Hittle invited three of his staff who shared his Christian faith to join him, and he put his attendance on the town’s public calendar so his supervisors would be aware. The firefighters financed the two-day seminar with their own funds.

But the same supervisor who asked Chief Hittle to take leadership training told him it was unacceptable for him to attend a seminary affiliated with Christians.

Chief Hittle said the Summit was the best leadership training he had ever attended and was very beneficial for his career. In November 2010, the city manager confronted Hittle with a list of 10 “charges”, and the first five all related to his religious faith and activities. He threatened Hittle, saying that if he didn’t accept a demotion, “I’ll drag your name through the mud” and conduct an investigation that “will be embarrassing for you and your family.” Another supervisor disparagingly referred to Hittle and other Christians in the office as a “Christian coalition” and a “church clique”. After several months of investigation, the city fired Hittle in October 2011, making it clear in his termination letter that he was being fired for attending a Christian-affiliated leadership seminar.

Chief Hittle filed a complaint of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which in turn gave him the right to sue the city. With the help of Alan Reinach and the Church State Council, Hittle sued in federal court in California for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

His lawyers presented extensive evidence of religious discrimination, including direct evidence that the main reasons the city fired Chief Hittle were related to his attendance at a religious event. The district court, however, disagreed and ruled for the city in March 2022 without allowing the case to go to a jury.

The city’s illegal behavior couldn’t be clearer. He admitted that his main reasons for firing a religious employee were his faith and his religious activities. This is illegal under federal civil rights law. With our recent appeal, we hope the Ninth Circuit recognizes this direct evidence of discrimination, allows a jury to decide Chief Hittle’s case, and brings him one step closer to the justice he deserves.

Religious people do not need to apply?

From the boardrooms of American corporations to the woke ideologies that have infiltrated many of our government agencies, there is growing intolerance and hostility toward religion. Because of this toxic cancel culture, religious Americans are often reduced to second-class citizens, because just about every other right trumps religious freedom.

With the case of Chief Hittle, we see the government once again sending a message that religious people do not need to apply. It’s wrong. Forcing Americans to choose between their religious belief and their livelihood is not only outrageous. It’s illegal. The laws of our country protect believers so that they do not have to face this difficult choice.

Together, we must protect the rights of Americans like Chief Hittle to practice their faith without fear of losing their jobs. The outcome of his case could impact believers across the country and their protection in the workplace, be it you or your children and grandchildren. Join First Liberty in the fight to deliver more critical victories for religious freedom in the workplace.

About Jessica J. Bass

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