In Sprague v. Spokane Valley Fire Department, (WA Sup. Ct., Jan. 25, 2018), the Washington state Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision gave an initial victory to fire captain Jonathan Sprague who had been fired for using the fire department’s e-mail and electronic bulletin board systems to disseminate information on the Spokane County Christian Firefighter Fellowship that he had formed. The court refused to find that a decision by the Spokane County Civil Service Commission acted as collateral estoppel against Sprague.  On the merits of the claim, the majority found that while the fire department’s policy limiting the use of its e-mail system to official business is reasonable, it enforced the policy against Sprague in a way that was not viewpoint neutral. It found that the restrictions on Sprague’s use of the bulletin board system were unreasonable. The majority concluded:On remand, the burden will shift to SVFD to show by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have terminated Sprague even in the absence of his protected conduct. … SVFD must additionally show that Sprague’s termination was justified under ROW 41.08.080, which permits the termination of civil service employees like Sprague only upon certain conditions. Assuming that the trier of fact determines that Sprague’s termination was not otherwise justifiable, the trier of fact should then determine the applicable amount of damages that Sprague suffered from SVFD’s viewpoint discrimination.The four dissenters argued that the case should be remanded for the trial court to determine whether the fire department in fact had an unwritten policy that was specifically hostile to religious viewpoints.



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