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Sunday, Jan 12 2014 10:00 PM

Supervisor David Couch sues former employer over firing

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    In this file photo, David Couch, just-elected 4th District Kern County supervisor, meets and greets some of his supporters including Chris Sheehan at Prime Cut on Brimhall Road.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County Supervisor David Couch has sued Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, the investment firm where he used to work, for firing him because he took the 4th District seat.

In a lawsuit filed on Jan. 2 in U.S. District Court in Fresno, Couch alleges that the firm hired him in 2008, while he was serving as a Bakersfield city councilman, under the understanding that he intended to eventually run for the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

Couch's suit states that the firm approved his political activity but, when he actually won county office and moved from the part-time city gig to the full-time county job, Morgan Stanley fired him in January 2013.

Jim Wiggins, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley, said the firm would not comment on Couch's suit.

"We're reviewing the lawsuit and we will respond through the normal legal process," he said.

Couch declined to comment, referring questions to his attorney.

That attorney, Deborah Klar of the Bel Air firm Klar and Associates, said Couch doesn't want his job back -- he wants damages for the financial losses he's faced because of the termination.

The lawsuit filing lists those to be about $2 million.

Klar said that, using agreements Couch signed when he took the job at Morgan Stanley, the firm stripped Couch of his long-term clients -- many of whom he had brought with him when he came to Morgan Stanley.

"What happens when a broker is terminated is the brokerage firm uses its resources to make sure all of his clients remain with the broker dealer," Klar said.

Couch is seeking "disgorgement," Klar said -- the profits that Morgan Stanley received and will continue to receive from the clients Couch brought with him.

In the filing, Couch makes several claims that Morgan Stanley broke sections of the Labor Code and Business and Professions Code.

Employers are prohibited, the suit argues, from prohibiting employees from running for office, threatening to fire them for becoming engaged in politics or firing them for being politically active.

While Couch's job as a Kern County supervisor is a full-time position with pay and benefits, Klar said he had made arrangements that would have allowed him to continue serving his clients.

"He put together a team to ensure he would be able to function and service both his clients and the needs of the Board of Supervisors," Klar said.

But Morgan Stanley, the suit claims, told Couch to choose between his financial advisor job and his county gig.

Couch chose the county job.

He was fired on Jan. 15, 2013, according to supporting documents attached to the filing.

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