WELA ALERT: WASHINGTON COURT OF APPEALS
Employee was a fire department captain. He began distributing newsletters through the fire department email system for his Christian Firefighters Fellowship. His messages often included scriptural passages. He was told that the email system was for business purposes only but he ignored the directive. Eventually he was fired for insubordination.
He appealed to the civil service commission which upheld his termination. He then sued the department in court claiming his discharge violated the First Amendment. The Superior Court granted summary judgment on the basis of collateral estoppel and no First Amendment violation.
The court of appeals affirmed, 2-1. The majority found that the email system was a non-public forum. The majority found that business use only policy was reasonable, viewpoint neutral, and content neutral. The majority also found that collateral estoppel barred his claim that he was terminated for reasons other than insubordination.
Judge Lawrence-Berrey filed a concurring opinion to respond to the dissent. The concurrence found the department policy necessary to avoid an Establishment Clause violation.
Judge Fearing filed a 35-page dissent.? He would have held the department had engaged in viewpoint discrimination because it allowed secular messages from the department?s employee assistance program administrator on the same topic as the employee?s religious messages.
Sprague v. Spokane Valley Fire Dep?t, — Wn. App. —, 381 P.3d 1259 (Div. III 9/21/16) (Korsmo, Lawrence-Berrey, Fearing).