By Matt Reynolds/Courthouse News
DETROIT (CN) — A disabled Army veteran sued Michigan on Friday, claiming its Department of Health and Human Services fired him unconstitutionally, for posting a holiday picture of himself dressed up as Santa Claus with an assault rifle.
In his First Amendment complaint in federal court, Calvin Congden, of Tipton, says he served at Guantanamo Bay and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal during his tour of duty. After he was discharged, he says, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
Represented by Joseph Michaels with Nachtlaw, in Ann Arbor, Congden says he dressed up as Santa Claus for a charity event for foster children at a bowling alley each Christmas.
He says he often uses his Facebook page to express his views as a gun advocate. In December 2015 he posted a picture on Facebook showing him standing in front of a Christmas tree, dressed as Santa Claus and holding an assault rifle he owns legally, with an American flag in the background of what appears to be the living room of his home.
After he posted the picture, he says, an HHS manager, defendant Allison Zinn, warned other workers to “beware” of him “because he was a veteran, owned firearms, and ‘looked crazy’ in the picture.”
Congden says he complained to his state representative and on Jan. 11, 2016 met with two more HHS managers, defendants Emilee Hudson Zoe Lyons, and lodged another complaint about Zinn. Soon after that, he says, he received his first write-up on the job, and Lyon and Hudson disciplined him for “falling behind on documentation and making simple grammatical errors.”
He was put on one year of probation, and in July 2016 Hudson told him he was “emotionally unfit” to work and HHS fired him, according to the complaint.
“The real motivation for plaintiff’s termination was retaliation for his exercise of his constitutionally protected right to bear arms, his constitutionally protected speech, and his disability,” the complaint states.
Congden seeks reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, and damages for First and Second Amendment discrimination, and disability discrimination.
Neither Congden’s attorney nor HHS could be contacted for comment after business hours Friday.