Former Montesano Public Works Director Russell Burke’s claim that he was terminated as “political retaliation” is bogus. That’s according to a February 22 decision by the Washington State Court of Appeals. The court also said the City of Montesano “had a legitimate reason to terminate Burke for insubordination.”
The decision affirms a 2015 Superior Court ruling granting the City of Montesano’s motion for summary judgment on the matter.
Burke was fired by then-Mayor Ken Estes in 2013 amid allegations of misuse of city equipment and supplies per a theft investigation regarding city paint. After his termination, Burke filed a $400,000 claim against the city alleging he was the victim of a hostile work environment.
Two courts disagree.
As noted previously, Superior Court documents obtained via public record request indicated that on November 16, 2015 the parties stipulated to dismiss three of the five causes of action Burke brought against the City of Montesano and all those big meanies at city hall. At the next hearing on November 20, 2015, Judge Erik Price bounced out the last two when he granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. (See: THIS is What an Epic Fail Looks Like.)
After losing in Superior Court, Burke had thirty days to appeal to the Appellate Court. He did. And lost there, too.
In its February 22, 2017 ruling, the Appellate Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling. It also held that Burke “failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that Burke’s political activity was a substantial factor or a pretext in the City’s decision to terminate him.” The Appellate Court ruling begins:
Russell and Julie Burke appeal the superior court’s order granting the City of Montesano’s (City) motion for summary judgment on their claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Because Burke has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that Burke’s political activity was a substantial factor or a pretext in the City’s decision to terminate him, we hold that the superior court properly granted the City’s motion for summary judgment.
In last week’s eleven-page ruling, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling on a three-to-zero vote. The court cites “at least two reasons” (see pages 10 and 11):
First, the City did not rely on the failure to attend a second Loudermill hearing in its termination letter. Estes’s deposition testimony came long after the termination, when he was trying to recall the reasons for the termination. Second, even though Estes’s testimony was inaccurate, it is not reasonable to infer from that testimony that the City terminated Burke because of political retaliation.
Here, the City had a legitimate reason to terminate Burke for insubordination and Burke had not met his burden to present evidence that created a genuine issue of material fact that political retaliation was a substantial motivating factor or pretext in the decision to terminate him. Accordingly, we hold that the Superior court did not err by granting the City’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing Burke’s claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.
Any way you paint it, that color is Epic Smackdown.
When reached for reaction, Mr. Estes politely declined comment.
Burke has 30 days to appeal to the State Supreme Court.