Washington Supreme Court upholds summary judgment for Gonzaga University in wrongful termination case

By Asia Mayfield | Sep 26, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) – The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that summary judgment was properly awarded to Gonzaga University in a wrongful termination case.

The justices of the Supreme Court of the state of Washington affirmed a trial court ruling dismissing the plaintiff’s complaints. The final decision was filed on Sept. 13.  

"The main issue on appeal to this court is whether the Court of Appeals applied the correct test to (plaintiff David) Martin's whistleblower claim," the court ruled. "We find that the Court of Appeals applied the incorrect standard, one reserved for wrongful discharge claims that do not fit into the four recognized categories of wrongful discharge claims, rather than the standard used for wrongful discharge claims based on whistleblowing, one of the recognized categories of claims. However, we affirm the Court of Appeals' ultimate holding that Gonzaga is entitled to summary judgment on the wrongful termination claim.

"The trial court correctly held that Gonzaga is entitled to summary judgment on both claims."

Martin sued Gonzaga over allegations that he was fired because of whistleblower activities. He also claimed that the Gonzaga failed to provide him with his requested personnel file.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the original ruling regarding the wrongful discharge suit’s dismissal but reversed the decision related to the personnel file.  

The Supreme Court disagreed with the Appeal Court's ruling regarding the personnel file, finding that Martin’s personnel file claim was not justiciable. The relevant statues are regulated by the Department of Labor and Industries (DLI). The court notes that “Martin would first have to pursue an administrative request through DLI before seeking a judicial remedy from the court... There is nothing in the record to show that Martin has brought his request to DLI.”

Martin was employed at Gonzaga’s Rudolf Fitness Center. His 2011 job evaluation noted that he had “below average” interpersonal skills and was performing below his capabilities, the ruling states. After the evaluation, Martin submitted a report to management proposing a new pool. He also claims that he advocated for padding the walls of the basketball court.

In March 2012, Martin was terminated. He claimed in court that “one reason for his termination was the belief that [he]... gave information about student injuries resulting from the lack of padding to the Gonzaga University student newspaper.”  

According to the court: “Even if Martin had met the first step, he does not satisfy the second step, which requires the plaintiff to show that the public-policy-linked conduct was a ‘significant factor’ in the decision to discharge the worker.”  

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