A former employee of the city's Economic Development Department says his bosses fired him because he refused to join the Municipal Employees Association.
Trevor Howell, a former Community Development Specialist, claims that his bosses Eliana Barrieros, Amy Gowan, and Michelle St. Bernard all had a hand in giving him his walking papers after Howell claimed to be a "conscientious objector," in effect turning down membership into the union, violating a condition of his employment.
According to the complaint, Howell refused to join the union on April 14 of this year after citing religious objections, namely "Matthew 20:1-15, Proverbs 18:9, Ecclesiastes 9:10 and 1 Peter 2:18." However, California is one of 28 states that requires employees of a unionized employer such as the City of San Diego to pay fees for union representation, whether they like it or not. Employees have some say as to where those fees go, meaning they can request that the union redirect the fees to a charity. The union then has the opportunity to review the request, either granting the employee conscientious objector status or not.
It appears that Howell didn't get that far. Three days after stating his objections, he submitted a claim for "reasonable accommodations" for a second computer monitor due to vision problems. That claim was denied twice. Then, on July 26, Howell was let go, before his probationary period with the city ended.
"[The] City and its management discriminated against Howell by engaging in a course of conduct which included subjecting [him] to harassment, disparate treatment and retaliation in employment due to [his] religious beliefs. Howell is informed and believes and thereon alleges that his harassment, disparate treatment, retaliation and his subsequent termination from City were in fact a pretext for discriminating against him on the basis of his religious beliefs."
The complaint also shows that Howell wasn't getting along with his coworkers. In fact, according to the complaint, Barrieros, Gowan, and St. Bernard accused him of threatening them and for creating "a hostile work environment." The complaint stated that the three women claimed they "feared for their physical well-being around Howell."
In the lawsuit, filed on December 17, Howell denied the allegations, saying they were made in order to create a conspiracy that would justify his termination.
"Howell is informed and believes and thereon alleges that due to their ongoing work-related conflicts, Defendants, and each of them, wanted to hurt Howell professionally and they did so by concocting threats from Howell that did not happen."
The former employee wants the city to compensate him for lost wages, for ruining his reputation, and for "shame and mortification."
Update, 12/18 10:50 a.m.: Michael Zucchet of the Municipal Employees Association (also a former council member), responded to the suit with this statement: "As far as I recall Mr. Howell is the only MEA-represented employee who has formally applied for conscientious objector status in my 5 years with MEA. MEA approved Mr. Howell’s conscientious objector declaration in April 2013. Our MOU provides three charities for a bona fide conscientious objector to choose from: the American Cancer Society, Mama’s Kitchen, or Ronald McDonald House."