Serving His Community as Fire Chief

Ron Hittle served his community as a firefighter for 24 years. When he became Fire Chief in 2006, he did his best to improve the fire department and lead his staff effectively. Hittle is also a devout Christian who sought to live out his faith in the workplace.

In 2010, the Deputy City Manager asked Hittle and his staff members to attend leadership training. Chief Hittle learned about the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit from a secular 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 various worldviews including his own Christian worldview. Chief Hittle allowed three of his staff members who shared his Christian faith to join him, and he put his attendance on the public city calendar so his supervisors would be aware. The firefighters paid for the two-day seminar with their own funds.

Fired Because of His Faith

Just two months later, the same supervisor who asked Hittle to attend leadership training told him it was unacceptable that he attended a Christian-affiliated seminar. Hittle explained that the Summit was the best leadership training he had ever attended and that it was highly beneficial for his career. In November 2010, the City Manager confronted Hittle with a list of 10 “charges,” and the first 5 were 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 “church clique.” After several months of investigating, the city fired Hittle in October 2011, making clear in his termination letter that he was being fired for his attendance at a Christian-affiliated leadership seminar.

Seeking Justice under Federal Law

In March 2012, Chief Hittle filed a complaint of religious discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), who 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, arguing that he experienced unlawful religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because he was fired for attending a religious seminar and allowing religious coworkers to join him.

Hittle presented ample evidence of religious discrimination, including direct evidence that the city’s main reasons for firing Hittle related to his attendance at a “religious event.” The top “charges” from the City’s investigation all related to his faith and religious activities. Unfortunately, the district court disagreed and ruled for the city in March 2022 without allowing Hittle’s case to go to a jury.

First Liberty Protects the Rights of Religious Employees

On appeal, First Liberty and Aaron Streett and Elisabeth Butler from Baker Botts LLP are joining Chief Hittle’s legal team from the Church State Council. Our team will present Hittle’s religious discrimination claim to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that there is ample evidence of religious discrimination and the case should go to trial before a jury.

“It’s not every day that an employer makes clear that its top reasons for firing a religious employee were because of his religious faith and activities,” said Stephanie Taub, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute. “We are hopeful that the Ninth Circuit will recognize this direct evidence of discrimination and allow a jury to decide Hittle’s case. Religious employees shouldn’t have to hide their faith in order to serve their communities in the workplace.”

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