The Spokane Valley Fire Department commissioners voted unanimously this week to deny a grievance filed by the firefighters union on behalf of Capt. Jon Sprague, who has been reprimanded for sending emails with religious content on the department’s email system.
Sprague began sending the emails to a group of nearly 50 firefighters after he founded the Spokane County Christian Firefighter Fellowship in 2010.
In previous statements, Sprague has maintained that sending such emails are his First Amendment right, while the department believes it is an illegal use of government funds. He was previously suspended for two 24-hour shifts without pay, but commissioners voted to delay implementation of the discipline until mediation could take place. The mediation was unsuccessful.
Sprague is deployed to a wildland fire in Nevada and did not attend the meeting. Don Kresse, president of Local 876 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said he was asking the commissioners to reconsider all of Sprague’s letters of reprimand and the suspension. “We’re considering this to be not for cause,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Dawson said a union grievance can be filed if the department violates its contract with the union or violates an employee’s due process rights. “We don’t feel that we have,” he said.
Sprague has admitted violating an order to stop using the department’s system to send the emails because he doesn’t believe the order is lawful, Dawson said. “We disagree with that,” he said.
“If that’s what your feeling is, we’ll have to agree to disagree,” Kresse said.
In an interview the day after the meeting, Kresse said that since the mediation failed be thinks the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will get involved.
“I believe that allows the EEOC to move forward with a full-scale investigation,” he said.
The commissioners are scheduled to decide whether to move forward with Sprague’s suspension at the next meeting on Aug. 27. “With luck he’ll be back to speak on his own behalf,” Kresse said.