United States District Court, E.D. Washington
EDWARD L. POOL, Plaintiff,
HAROLD L. WHITE, in his individual capacity, Defendant.
ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY
L. QUACKENBUSH SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
THE COURT is Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment Re: Liability (ECF No. 22). Response and Reply
briefs have been filed. (ECF No. 25 & 32). Plaintiff set
the motion for hearing without oral argument, and neither
side has requested oral argument. Accordingly, the matter was
submitted on the briefs.
Edward Pool alleges he was wrongfully terminated by Defendant
White in violation of his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff
alleges he was employed by the Washington State Department of
Transportation ("WSDOT") from August 1, 2015 to
March 3, 2016. (Complt. ¶ 2.2). Defendant White was the
Assistant Regional Administrator for WSDOT at all relevant
times. Plaintiff alleges that while at work on February 8,
2016, he "made a comment and gesture critical" of
President Obama. (Complaint ¶ 2.2). Plaintiff claims
Defendant White fired him on March 3, 2016, because of this
comment and gesture. Plaintiff brings his claim pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the First Amendment. Defendant
White admits to discharging Plaintiff, but denies the
termination was in violation of Plaintiff's First
summary judgment proceedings, the facts are viewed in a light
most favorable to the non-movant, in this case the Defendant.
The following facts are set forth in a light favorable to the
Defendant and key factual disputes are noted.
Harold White is the Assistant Regional Administrator for
Operations at WSDOT. Plaintiff Edward Pool was hired on or
about July 30, 2015, to a "Non-Permanent, In-Training
Appointment" as an Information Technology Specialist.
(ECF No. 28-2, Letter of July 30, 2015). The Appointment
letter informed Mr. Pool, "this appointment is
anticipated to last for a period of approximately one year;
however, this appointment may end at any time with one
working days' notice." (Id.). Pool began
work on August 3, 2015, and his immediate supervisor was Ken
events precipitating Pool's termination occurred on
February 8, 2016. On that day, around 4:30 p.m., Pool came to
the doorway of co-worker Robin Pritchard's office. (ECF
No. 28-3, Pritchard Depo. p. 43). He stood in the doorway for
a minute or two, and neither he or Ms. Pritchard said
anything, as she was working and watching traffic monitors.
(Id. at 43-45). He then made a simulated gesture of
pointing a rifle at Ms. Pritchard. She asked, "what are
you doing?" (Id. at 45-46). He did not respond
immediately, and she then asked, "well, what are you
doing?" (Id. at 46). Pool then raised the
pretend gun away from Ms. Pritchard and said, "I'm
going to shoot Obama." (Id.). Pool then left.
testified she felt "paralyzed" by the comment,
could not concentrate, and could not effectively perform her
job duties during the remainder of her shift, from 4:30 p.m.
to 6:00 p.m. (Id. at 53). Approximately 34-hours
after this incident, at 2:50 a.m. on February 10, 2016,
Pritchard sent an e-mail to Ken Heale and Mike Kress, with
the subject line "Panic attacks" and which read as
On Monday afternoon around 4:30 Larry was leaning on his
office door and had his arms kind of pointing at me, I asked
him what he was doing and it was like he raised a rifle and
pointed it away from me and said he was going to kill Obama.
I've tried to stop thinking about it, but I can't
sleep and I have panic attacks. I will be going to my doctor
tomorrow to get some medication. I will bring in a doctors
note for being under a doctors care.
(ECF No. 28-3; Pritchard Depo Ex. 2). Pritchard was then
subsequently absent from work for several weeks on Family
Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave allegedly related to anxiety.
Heale received the email in the early morning hours of
February 10, 2016, and at about 7:00 a.m. contacted Bobbi
Collins Whitehead, the Human Resources Manager. (ECF No.
28-5, Heale Depo. p. 14). Heale and Whitehead arranged to
meet with Plaintiff at about 2:30 p.m. on February 10, 2016,
to talk to him about what was described in the email.
Whitehead testified that Pool admitted making the comment
about Obama, but said it was a joke and that he needed to be
careful in jest about making such comments. (ECF No. 28-4,
Whitehead Depo. p. 20). The workplace violence policy was
discussed at the meeting. (Id. at 21). Whitehead
testified the incident was "inherently disruptive"
to the workplace, resulting in a situation where a
fact-finding investigation was required. (Id. at
30). She further testified Pritchard's absence from the
workplace was "significant". (Id.).
WSDOT "Violence-Free Workplace" Policy (hereafter
"Policy") provides in relevant part:
"Violence, threats, or intimidation of any kind is
strictly prohibited and will be cause for appropriate
management intervention to diffuse the incident and restore a
violence-free work environment." (ECF No. 28-1; White
Depo. Ex. 3). The Policy further provides "unacceptable
behavior" includes verbal "threats toward a
person" and "intimidation". (Id.).
The Policy also defines as "unacceptable behavior"
the "use or threatened use of a weapon" and
"threatening, intimidating gestures."
(Id.) Finally, the Policy provides that violation of
the standards of ...