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Strom v. Lake Washington School District

December 16, 1996

DANIEL M. STROM AND COLLEEN STROM, HUSBAND AND WIFE, INDIVIDUALLY AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY THEREOF, APPELLANTS/CROSS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
LAKE WASHINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT; AND L. E. "BUD" SCARR, SUPERINTENDENT AND JANE DOE SCARR, HIS WIFE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A MARITAL COMMUNITY; AND CYNTHIA MEILLEUR, DISTRICT COORDINATOR OF EMPLOYEE RELATIONS, AND JOHN DOE MEILLEUR, HER HUSBAND, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A MARITAL COMMUNITY, RESPONDENTS/CROSS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 92-2-21818-6. Date filed: 11/22/94. Judge signing: Hon. Robert S. Lasnik.

Petition for Review Denied May 6, 1997,

Authored by Walter E. Webster. Concurring: H. Joseph Coleman, C. Kenneth Grosse.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster

WEBSTER, J. -- Daniel Strom appeals the trial court's partial summary judgment dismissing his claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy and negligent investigation. We affirm the dismissal because Strom's collective bargaining agreement and the continuing contract statute do not give rise to an independent tort for wrongful discharge, and Washington does not recognize a tort of negligent investigation. The Lake Washington School District cross-appeals the court's denial of its motion for summary judgment to dismiss Strom's defamation claim. Because genuine issues of material fact exist, we affirm on that issue as well.

FACTS

The District dismissed Strom from his position as a seventh grade teacher based on a student's allegations that Strom had intercourse with her. Strom grieved his dismissal pursuant to his collective bargaining agreement. An arbitrator determined that the District did not have just cause to dismiss Strom and reinstated him with back pay.

Strom sued the District and the District's superintendent and employee relations coordinator, alleging breach of his employment contract, defamation, wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, and negligent investigation. The court granted the District's motion for partial summary judgment as to Strom's claims regarding public policy discharge and negligent investigation, but denied the motion as to the defamation claim.

The court later denied the District's motion for reconsideration.

Discussion

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. CR 56(c). We review the summary judgment order de novo, considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Kruse v. Hemp, 121 Wash. 2d 715, 722, 853 P.2d 1373 (1993).

Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy

Strom contends that he may bring a tort claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy because the District fired him without just cause in violation of his collective bargaining agreement and RCW 28A.405, et seq., the "continuing contract" statute that requires that certificated school district employees be dismissed only with just cause.

Washington recognizes a tort of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy when an employer discharges an employee for a reason that "contravenes a clear mandate of public policy." Thompson v. St. Regis Paper, 102 Wash. 2d 219, 233, 685 P.2d 1081 (1984). Wrongful termination in violation of public policy is an intentional tort for which the plaintiff must establish a "wrongful intent." Havens v. C & D Plastics, 124 Wash. 2d 158, 177, 876 P.2d 435 (1994). Here, the District's reason for firing Strom was his alleged sexual conduct with a student. Certainly sexual misconduct is a legitimate reason to discharge a teacher. Strom's claim that ...


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