City of Huntington Beach Sued in Federal Court after Firing Advisory Board Member Who Attended Immigrant Rights Rally

By Crescenzo Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA – The city of Huntington Beach is being sued in federal court here after a citizen advisory board member was “fired by tweet” after she attended a pro-immigrant rights demonstration.

The free speech lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California last week, claims that former Citizen Participation Advisory Board member Shayna Lathus was fired after she attended an April 2019 rally for immigrant rights.

The pleading explains that Lathus was “photographed standing near several people wearing all black. The photo was then circulated on social media with the claim that Ms. Lathus was associated with Antifa (short for anti-fascist) as part of a smear campaign by right-wing activists.”

The lawsuit contends that “Standing by people who are wearing all black implies neither support nor membership in any organization.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr “bought into the smear campaign and threatened to fire Ms. Lathus from the Citizen Participation Advisory Board unless she published a public statement denouncing Antifa,” according to an announcement of the civil action.

Lathus argues, “Under the threat of losing her position (she) made a public statement condemning violence and discussing the importance of civic engagement,” but Carr fired her anyway “because the statement did not specifically denounce Antifa.”

Lathus noted in her suit that she “supports law enforcement officers (and) supports immigrants’ rights, she was not aware that people identifying as Antifa would be present at the rally, and she did not engage with people identified as Antifa.”

Lathus said that “Mayor Carr’s acts of forcing (her) to publish a statement then firing (her) in retaliation for exercising her rights violated (her) First Amendment rights of free speech, association and assembly,” adding “Huntington Beach has a history and de facto policy of punishing free speech.”

The pleading explains that now Mayor Carr “made a social media post stating that ‘[t]hose that do not immediately denounce hateful, violent groups do not share my values and will not be a part of my team.’

“By forcing Ms. Lathus to make a public statement about her attendance at the April 27 Rally under threat of losing her position…Defendant (city) violated Ms. Lathus’s right to be free from government compelled speech,” claims the legal filing.

“Defendant has a persistent and widespread policy, custom, or equivalent to punish and retaliate against its employees and volunteers who engage in protected First Amendment activities, which was the driving force that led to Ms. Lathus being removed,” the lawsuit charged.

Apparently, according to Lathus, the city previously “forced” another member of the same advisory board to resign because of their exercise of First Amendment rights. And that the city’s “conduct extends to other departments, committees, and boards.”

Lathus’ lawsuit notes that “Carr was not disciplined for infringing Ms. Lathus’s rights. Indeed, she was later promoted to the position of mayor as a reward for her politics, policies, and conduct, including the removal of Ms. Lathus from city government.”

Lathus is seeking injunctive relief, and asking the city of Huntington Beach reinstate her as a member of the Huntington Beach Citizens Advisory Board, and seeks “a declaration that Defendant’s removal violated her free speech, association, and assembly rights; damages; and reasonable costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees.”

Coincidentally, Lathus ran for Huntington Beach City Council, but lost in 2018. Carr did win.

The suit was filed by Andrea Bird-Steiner, and civil rights attorney Jerold D. Friedman.

Bird-Steiner is an Orange County attorney who argued pro bono in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for a transgender woman from Mexico tortured by police and military officials. The Ninth Circuit granted relief under the Convention Against Torture.

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