March 13, 2013 in City

Commission: Firefighter who misused email won’t get job back

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Capt. Jon Sprague, shown June 27, was disciplined for sending emails with religious content to firefighters using Spokane Valley Fire’s email system.
(Full-size photo)

The Spokane Valley Fire Department’s Civil Service Commission denied a request by former Capt. Jon Sprague to get his job back after he was fired last year for sending religious emails from his department email account despite repeated orders to stop.

The vote today was unanimous upholding the decisions of the fire commissioners and former Chief Mike Thompson to fire Sprague.

Sprague runs the Spokane County Christian Firefighter Fellowship and routinely sent newsletters and other information to fellow firefighters that had agreed to receive the emails. He was ordered to stop and was disciplined several times, including two letters of reprimand and the suspension of two 24-hour shifts, before he was terminated.

Sprague has argued that sending the emails is his First Amendment right and that other employees also send unofficial emails and have not been disciplined.

Commissioner Diana Wilhite, a former Spokane Valley mayor, said she has experience with the proper use of a taxpayer-funded email system. “We were repeatedly told not to use government property for private purposes,” she said.

“Mr. Sprague had not followed a direct recommendation from his superior,” said Commissioner Tom Fisher. “I do see that as the cause of this and not the content.”

Sprague said he was not surprised by the commissioners’ decision and plans to keep fighting to get his job back, but “I certainly believe they acted in good conscience, so I can’t fault them for that.”

Sprague said he plans to request a notice of right to sue through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal laws banning discrimination. The notice is required because he is alleging religious discrimination, Sprague said.

“This was unfortunately the beginning to what may be a protracted legal process,” he said.

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