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Spratt v. Toft

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

April 21, 2014

Kelly A. Spratt, Respondent,
v.
Bradley Toft et al., Appellants

Page 708

Superior Court County: King. Superior Court Cause No: 12-2-33503-6.SEA. Date filed in Superior Court: 1) June 13, 2013, 2) August 6, 2013, 3) August 6, 2013. Superior Court Judge Signing: Hon. Mary I. Yu.

Andrew J. Kinstler and David Gross (of Helsell Fetterman LLP ), for appellants.

Janet A. Irons, for respondent.

AUTHOR: Grosse, JPT. WE CONCUR: Lau, J., Dwyer, J.

OPINION

Page 709

Grosse, J.[*]

[180 Wn.App. 624] ¶ 1 To succeed on a special motion to strike under Washington's anti-SLAPP statute,[1] the moving party must make an initial prima facie showing that the claimant's suit arises from an act in furtherance of the right of petition or free speech in connection with a matter of public concern. Campaigning and speech connected to a political campaign and candidate clearly involve free speech and clearly are matters of public concern. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's denial of Bradley Toft's motion to dismiss, and we remand for consideration of whether Spratt establishes by clear and convincing evidence, a probability of prevailing on her defamation claim.

FACTS

¶ 2 From 2001 until December 2005, Kelly Spratt worked at Quadrant Home Loans, a joint venture between Wells Fargo Bank and Quadrant Homes. Toft, as King County sales manager, was Spratt's immediate supervisor. Toft reported to Randy Smith. When Smith was promoted to vice president and regional sales manager for Wells Fargo Home Mortgages, Toft reported to Rich Osburn, Smith's replacement. Spratt was repeatedly promoted during her time at Quadrant and was never the subject of a performance improvement plan. In 2005, she was promoted to sales manager for the south region of King County, overseeing branch offices.

¶ 3 Smith and Spratt both assert that Toft had a reputation for being untrustworthy and manipulative and that the [180 Wn.App. 625] company had an issue with his management style. Smith's declaration establishes that Toft's management style was the subject of numerous intracompany meetings. Spratt observed Toft's abusive behavior in which he made employees cry and, in one instance, swung a baseball bat at Spratt's head.

Page 710

¶ 4 Without justification, in December 2005, Toft accused Spratt of unethical behavior. There was no threat of termination or request that she resign. The following day, Spratt reported to Osburn and Smith that she could no longer tolerate Toft's abusive behavior and she was going to resign. Smith's declaration supported Spratt's version of the events, and Smith apologized to Spratt for Toft's behavior. Smith told Spratt that he appreciated hearing her reason for resigning. The next day, Spratt tendered her resignation to Toft who circulated an e-mail to employees at Quadrant acknowledging that Spratt had resigned.

¶ 5 A few weeks after her resignation, Osburn (Toft's supervisor) called Spratt and offered her employment at Washington Square, another Wells Fargo joint venture. Spratt accepted the position under the condition that she would not have to interact with Toft. Smith's declaration confirms that such an offer would not have been made if Spratt had been under a cloud at Quadrant when she left:

The fact that Ms. Spratt was re-hired for the Washington Square project is thus unassailable proof that she was neither terminated for cause at Quadrant Home Loans, nor allowed to quit in place of being terminated.

Smith's declaration further notes that Toft's mischaracterization of Spratt's resignation is not surprising:

Based upon my experience with Mr. Toft, I am not surprised he is making allegations about Ms. Spratt's employment record that are unsubstantiated by the facts.

Smith stated that he was aware of Toft's problems with several subordinates, which resulted in an unusually high [180 Wn.App. 626] turnover rate for the employees who worked directly with him:

As a result of that, and other issues regarding his performance, I and our Quadrant partner made the decision to involuntarily terminate Mr. Toft's employment at Quadrant Home Loans in December 2006. Unfortunately in many respects he was ...

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