Michael Clara says Crossroads Urban Center illegally fired him after what he says was a self-defense shooting

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Former Salt Lake City Board of Education member Michael Clara in 2013. Clara filed a lawsuit on Aug. 24, 2020, against his former employer, the Crossroads Urban Center, saying they illegally fired him in December 2019.

A vocal community organizer — who was charged for shooting at a vehicle that repeatedly rammed into his car — has filed a lawsuit alleging his past employer illegally fired him for it.

Jon Michael Clara, who goes by Michael and who worked at Crossroads Urban Center when the shooting occurred, was fired less than a month after it happened, according to the lawsuit. Clara is currently fighting seven felony counts related to that Nov. 23, 2019, shooting, accused of putting others in danger by firing.

Clara and his attorneys contend he fired in self-defense after the stolen vehicle, affixed with a snowplow, rammed his car three times and sped away. A Crossroads volunteer was riding with Clara when this happened.

The lawsuit alleges that Clara was placed on administrative leave at Crossroads three days after that. He was fired Dec. 18, 2019.

According to the lawsuit, Crossroads Executive Director Glenn Bailey wrote in Clara’s termination letter, “I’m not comfortable with your actions on November 23rd in discharging your weapon. As an ‘at will’ employee you are subject to termination at any time, for any reason, with or without cause or notice.”

Austin Egan, Clara’s civil attorney, said that as an at-will employee, it’s true that Clara could be fired for many reasons — but not this one.

Egan argued that self-defense is a protected act, and cited a 2015 Utah Supreme Court decision to back up his argument.

In that case, Ray v. Walmart, the court concluded that “the policy favoring the right of self-defense is a public policy of sufficient clarity and weight to qualify as an exception to the at-will employment doctrine. But we limit the exception to situations where an employee reasonably believes that force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of serious bodily harm and the employee has no opportunity to withdraw.”

Egan said Clara was clearly facing an imminent threat — a “rogue maniac snowplow running into him” — when he fired.

Crossroads officials are aware of the lawsuit, Bailey said.

“Mr. Clara was separated from employment following a 23 November 2019 event in which he discharged a firearm, putting people in the community at risk. Crossroads Urban Center is premised on supporting our communities and neighborhoods,” Bailey said. He declined to comment further.

Before working at Crossroads, Clara was known as one of the most vocal and divisive members of the Salt Lake City Board of Education, representing the city’s west side. He once dressed as the “Frito Bandito” to protest board moves he said hurt minority groups.

Clara also filed, and won, another wrongful termination case in 2018, when he was fired from the Utah Transit Authority for whistleblowing, another protected act by at-will employees.

“Michael, he’s very intersected in social justice,” said Egan, who represented Clara previously. “Very interested in standing up for what’s right.”

A preliminary hearing in Clara’s criminal case is scheduled for Sept. 3.