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Fired Spokane Valley firefighter’s religious email case will be heard by State Supreme Court

UPDATED: Sat., April 1, 2017, 12:18 p.m.

Capt. Jon Sprague stands with firefighters during a wildland fire training session on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, at in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Capt. Jon Sprague stands with firefighters during a wildland fire training session on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, at in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane Valley firefighter trying to get his job back since he was fired in 2012 will argue his case against the Spokane Valley Fire Department before the Washington State Supreme Court later this year.

Capt. Jon Sprague said he’s not surprised that the Supreme Court decided to review his case. “I’ve known all along that we’ve had a solid case,” he said.

His attorney, Matt Albrecht, is also encouraged. “It’s considered to be good news if you got a decision against you at a lower level,” he said. “That tells you there is some reason they want to review it.”

Sprague led the Spokane County Christian Firefighters Fellowship group and repeatedly sent emails related to the group to fellow firefighters using the department’s email system despite being told not to. He was disciplined for it several times before he was fired in 2012.

His firing was upheld by the department’s Civil Service Commission, and Sprague then filed a lawsuit against the department in Spokane County Superior Court. The suit argued that the department had violated Sprague’s First Amendment rights by restricting his emails and not other messages that were also not work related.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that Sprague should have appealed the commission’s decision and not filed a lawsuit.

The Washington state Court of Appeals upheld that decision, but Sprague said he was hopeful because Judge George Fearing filed a lengthy dissent arguing that the health and wellness emails the department sent out were no different than Sprague’s.

“The Spokane Valley Fire Department had no compelling, let alone important, interest in restricting Jonathan Sprague’s speech,” Fearing wrote.

The department has focused on technicalities in its defense of the lawsuit, Sprague said. “I’ve been trying to let people know that this is a constitutional issue,” he said.

Despite spending five years fighting to get his job back, Sprague said he’s still trying to be hopeful.

“I was more optimistic about the court system going in than I am now,” he said. “You can’t predict people. Justices are people just like everybody else.”

Staff writer Thomas Clouse contributed to this report.



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