A former Chula Vista deputy fire chief has filed a claim against the city of Chula Vista, alleging that statements made by the city in the media about his firing are defamatory.
A governmental claim must be filed before a person may sue a public entity.
Garcia’s claim is a “demand for retraction and demand to remove defamatory statements from any and all public places, including without limitation ABC Web Sites.”
The claim solely mentions San Diego’s ABC News 10 as the source where the statements were published. However, last month The Star-News also published the city’s statement that was issued in a press release.
Garcia’s attorneys filed the claim on Feb. 3, weeks after winning a $1.2 million disability discrimination lawsuit against the city.
In court documents Garcia’s attorney said he was fired from his deputy fire chief position on Jan. 14, 2015, because of a reoccurring work-related neck injury.
“On Jan. 14, 2015, [Garcia] told [the city] his neck was injured again and that he might need another surgery,” attorney Bradley Gage previously said. ‘They fired him after that.”
However, the city issued a press release stating that Garcia was legitimately, and appropriately, terminated from his at-will deputy fire chief position “in the best interest of public safety and the city and the fire department.”
The city contended that Garcia was terminated “for having participated in decisions contrary to the safety and welfare of the city’s citizens and firefighters,” a statement Garcia’s attorneys said differs from the city’s sworn interrogatory answers in which he said the city specifically claimed different reasons for the termination.
In sworn statements the city had said Garcia was fired because of a reorganization in the fire department, which gave the then- newly appointed fire chief an opportunity to select his at-will executive staff.
“The truth is Jim Garcia was a victim of discrimination as the jury determined,” Gage said. “The truth is on the very same day and a few hours after Jim Garcia reported an injury to his neck, he was terminated without cause. So the statements to the media were irresponsible and improper.”
They city also said that Garcia had been subjected to a National Censure by the International Association of Firefighter’s. Gage said this puts Garcia in a false light because it fails to identify that the censure was later withdrawn. In “essence the censure had no force or effect”, Gage said.
The interrogatory response also does not state in it “It was time for new and respected leadership in the Chula Vista Fire Department in the best interest of the department and citizens,” as set out in the responses.
Gage said the city’s defamatory statements are harmful and damaging to Garcia’s reputation, as he would like to find additional work in the future.
Gage said the statements were made out of retaliation.
“I look at their statement as a vindictive attempt to retaliate against Jim Garcia because they have sour grapes about losing a [$1.2 million] lawsuit,” he said. “And that’s just plain wrong.”
Chula Vista City Attorney Glen Googins said Wednesday he was unaware of the claim.