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Thoma v. City of Spokane

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 26, 2014

BRADLEY N. THOMA, a single person, Plaintiff,
CITY OF SPOKANE, a municipal corporation in and for the State of Washington; and ANNE E. KIRKPATRICK, a single person, Defendants.


SALVADOR MENDOZA, Jr., District Judge.


Before the Court, without oral argument, is Defendants' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 171. Previously, the Court granted summary judgment dismissing all but Plaintiff's retaliation and vicarious liability claims. Defendants now move for summary judgment on the remaining claims. The Court, having reviewed the pleadings and file in this matter, is fully informed and for the following reasons grants Defendants' motion.


A. Factual History[1]

Plaintiff Bradley Thoma, began working for the City of Spokane Police Department ("SPD") on October 1, 1989.

On the evening of September 23, 2009, Plaintiff was involved in an off-duty vehicle accident. He was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and failure to remain at the scene of the accident. On September 24, 2009, Defendant City of Spokane ("City") placed Plaintiff on administrative leave and initiated an internal investigation.

During the prosecution on the criminal charges, Plaintiff sought a deferred prosecution in which he was evaluated and, on October 9, 2009, diagnosed by Colonia Clinic with moderate alcohol dependence. ECF Nos. 79-10 & 91-1. On November 13, 2009, the Spokane County District Court entered an Order deferring prosecution. As part of that deferred prosecution agreement, Plaintiff was required to obtain an Ignition Interlock Driver's License ("IIL"), which limited him to driving only vehicles equipped with an ignition interlock device ("IID"). At the time of the November 13, 2009 Order deferring prosecution, Washington State law allowed, but did not require, employers to issue a "waiver" (referred to by statue as a "declaration") of the IID requirement on employerowned vehicles used during working hours.

During the City's internal investigation, on November 9, 2009, Plaintiff's Spokane Police Guild representative advised Defendants that Plaintiff "was evaluated and determined to have an alcohol problem." ECF No. 79-8, at 19. This was the "first time [Plaintiff] had informed [his] employer of [his] alcoholism." ECF No. 79-5, at 47:17-19. The parties agree that "[p]rior to Plaintiff's arrest for DUI, there was no record in Plaintiff's personnel, civil service, or medical files of any report that Plaintiff had any issue with alcohol abuse." ECF No. 72 at 4 & 19; ECF No. 113.

On December 9, 2009, Defendant Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick provided Plaintiff with a Notice of Intent to Terminate, pursuant to Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985). The Notice explained that driving was a required essential function of Plaintiff's job that Defendant Kirkpatrick believed Plaintiff was unable to perform because he was required to maintain an IID on any vehicle he drove. Defendant Kirkpatrick further explained that it was not reasonable to place an IID on a police vehicle and that she did not believe it was reasonable to waive the IID requirement. On December 11, 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission ("HRC").

On December 14, 2009, Plaintiff's physician Dr. Mark Hart faxed a short, hand-written letter to Defendants in which he stated that he had diagnosed Plaintiff with alcoholism and suggested accommodations. Whatever Plaintiff's alcohol consumption may have been up to that time, he had always been able to perform his job duties as a police officer. Plaintiff was never intoxicated while at work for the SPD. Plaintiff reported that drinking caused him to drink with friends instead of going to the gym, caused him to spend less time with his daughter, but did not affect his ability to go to work.

During the December 17, 2009 Loudermill hearing Defendants declined to equip Plaintiff's vehicle with an IID or to sign a waiver allowing Plaintiff to operate a police vehicle without an IID. Instead, Defendant Kirkpatrick offered to put Plaintiff in non-commissioned layoff status for two years, the time he was required to have an IIL, during which he would be placed at the top of the Civil Service list for other jobs with the City for which he may be qualified. As part of the offer, at the conclusion of the two-year period, he would become reemployed with the City as a fully-commissioned Detective, rather than as a Sergeant, as discipline for his conduct leading to the criminal charges. Plaintiff rejected Defendants' offer.

On December 21, 2009, Defendants terminated Plaintiff's employment and issued a Termination of Employment Letter on December 30, 2009, finding that the accommodations requested by Plaintiff had been evaluated but rejected as unacceptable and unreasonable. That same day, the Spokane Police Guild ("Guild") field a grievance on behalf of Plaintiff.

On October 18, 2010, the Guild filed an unfair labor practices claim against the SPD. On January 5, 2011, the City and the Guild drafted an agreement between the City and the Guild to resolve the discipline grievance and read the agreement over the phone ...

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