Dodge v. Evergreen Sch. Dist.

Decision Date13 January 2021
Docket NumberCASE NO. C20-5224JLR
Citation513 F.Supp.3d 1286
Parties Eric DODGE, Plaintiff, v. EVERGREEN SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Washington

Michael John Estok, Lindsay Hart, LLP, Noah T. Barish, McKanna Bishop Joffe LLP, Portland, OR, for Plaintiff.

Michael E. McFarland, Jr., Evans Craven & Lackie, Spokane, WA, for Defendants Evergreen School District # 114, Janae Gomes.

Francis S. Floyd, John A. Safarli, Brittany C. Ward, Floyd Pflueger & Ringer PS, Seattle, WA, Michael E. McFarland, Jr., Evans Craven & Lackie, Spokane, WA, for Defendant Caroline Garrett.


JAMES L. ROBART, United States District Judge


Before the court are two motions: (1) Defendants Evergreen School District #114 ("EPS") and Jenae Gomes's (collectively, the "District") motion for summary judgment (Dist. MSJ (Dkt. # 36)); and (2) Defendant Caroline Garrett's motion for summary judgment (Garrett MSJ (Dkt. # 39)). Plaintiff Eric Dodge opposes the District and Ms. Garrett's (collectively, "Defendants") motions. (Resp. (Dkt. # 42).) The court has considered the motions, the parties’ submissions in favor of and in opposition to the motions, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised,1 the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants’ motions.


Mr. Dodge, a former teacher with EPS, alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional and statutory rights after he brought a "Make America Great Again" ("MAGA") hat to professional development sessions before the start of the 2019-2020 school year. (See generally Am. Compl. (Dkt. # 25).) The court reviews the factual and procedural background of this matter.

A. Factual Background

The District assigned Mr. Dodge to teach science during the 2019-2020 school year at Wy'east Middle School ("Wy'east"), where Ms. Garrett served as principal, in Vancouver, Washington. (Safarli Decl. (Dkt. # 40) ¶ 2, Ex. A ("Dodge Dep.") at 49:5-8; 49:18-24.)2 To prepare for the school year, Mr. Dodge reported to a cultural sensitivity training session for all school staff on August 22, 2019. (Id. at 71:15-17; 73:16-20.) He wore his MAGA hat from the parking lot to the front doors of the school, where he took the hat off and held it in his hand as he entered the school library for the training. (Id. at 74:10-14; 76:20-25; 80:25-81:2.) Mr. Dodge had the MAGA hat visible on his table during the training. (See id. at 89:8-25; Estok Decl. ¶ 10, Ex. 8 ("Hoff Rep.") at 8, 11-12; Estok Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 2 ("Garrett Dep.") at 121:22-122:2.)

Mr. Dodge states that he had two reasons for wearing the MAGA hat that day. (Dodge Decl. (Dkt. # 44) ¶ 2; Dodge Dep. at 74:15-75:23.) The "main reason" was that his dermatologist recommended wearing a hat to protect his head and ears from the sun after his skin cancer

diagnosis, and the MAGA hat was the only one he had at the time. (Id. at 74:15-75:17.) Second, it was his birthday, and it "felt like a good day to ... just be proud of who [he is] and who we are as a country." (Id. at 75:20-23.) He elaborated that by "who [he is]," he means the hat shows that he is "a fairly positive person with a ... forward, bright-looking outlook on things" and that "Make America Great ... speaks to everybody and says, Hey, let's all do our best to do whatever we can or whatever it is that we're doing." (Id. at 101:15-19.) He hoped that the hat "brings up conversation" or helps him "find people [with] alike interests." (Id. at 100:22-101:2.)

However, in his deposition, Mr. Dodge denied that he brought the MAGA hat into the training "to make some kind of statement." (Id. at 81:15-17.) Although he supports President Donald Trump and the Republican party, he did not carry the hat into the meeting to show support for President Trump, the Republican Party, or to persuade others to vote for President Trump or other Republican candidates. (Id. at 81:21-82:6; 82:11-23.) Mr. Dodge also denied doing so as an act of protest. (Id. at 83:11-24.) Indeed, he denied that he intended to express any political views or ideology at all with the MAGA hat. (Id. at 82:7-10; 83:3-5.) Furthermore, despite Mr. Dodge's desire to show others who he is, he denied that he intended the hat to "send some type of message to [his] colleagues regarding [his] personal beliefs" or "to cause other people to discuss [his] political views with them." (Id. at 83:25-84:11.)

After the cultural sensitivity training, some teachers and the trainer complained about Mr. Dodge's MAGA hat to Ms. Garrett. (Garrett Dep. at 121:7:14.) Ms. Garrett consulted with Ms. Gomes, the Chief Human Resources Officer for EPS, on how to discuss the issue with Mr. Dodge and had that conversation later that day. (Garrett Dep. at 122:24-124:6; Dodge Dep. at 96:5-21.) She asked Mr. Dodge why he wore the MAGA hat, and after having a "cordial" discussion about how the hat may be offensive to others, she let Mr. Dodge know that although she "won't tell [him] that [he] can't wear the hat," she advised him to "use [his] better judgment." (Dodge Dep. at 98:12-99:8.) Mr. Dodge took that to mean that he should not wear a MAGA hat at Wy'east. (Id. at 99:20-100:7.)

The next day, on Friday, August 23, 2019, Mr. Dodge attended a staff training session at Evergreen High School. (See id. at 115:10-116:9.) He again wore the MAGA hat while walking from his car to the school. (Id. at 116:6-9.) Again, Mr. Dodge represents that he wore the MAGA hat for skin protection and to "show people who [he is]," not to challenge Ms. Garrett's authority; communicate support for President Trump; or express his political view to others at the session. (Id. at 122:7-21; 123:24-124:16.) Mr. Dodge notes that he "didn't carry the hat into the building with any particular intention" but acknowledges that expressing his views is "a side effect of being there with [his MAGA] hat." (Id. at 124:8-9.) He did not put the hat in his backpack because he did not want to crush it. (See id. at 127:20-128:3.) In that regard, he explained that "it wouldn't have mattered if it was [the MAGA] hat, or ... a Portland Trail Blazers hat," he would have carried either one for fear of crushing it. (Id. ) Other teachers from Wy'east witnessed Mr. Dodge's MAGA hat and notified Ms. Garrett, and Ms. Garrett again consulted Ms. Gomes on the matter. (Garrett Dep. at 145:11-16; 148:19-23.)

After the training session at the high school, Mr. Dodge returned to Wy'east. (See Dodge Dep. at 131:3-6.) He approached Ms. Garrett after an afternoon training session to see whether there was another class at Wy'east that he could teach besides science. (Id. at 131:24-132:6.) According to Mr. Dodge, Ms. Garrett asked him "[w]hat is the fucking deal with your hat" and said, "I thought we had an agreement about you and your hat." (Id. at 136:7-8; 137:22-23.) Mr. Dodge felt "attacked at that point" and countered that he "didn't wear the hat today." (Id. at 136:9-15.) Ms. Garrett then got "more and more frustrated," calling him a "bigot," a "racist," a "homophobe," a "liar," and a "hateful person." (Id. at 138:5-15.) She then told Mr. Dodge that she did not want him to wear the MAGA hat, and "[t]he next time [she] see[s] [him] with that hat, [he] need[s] to have [his] union rep." (Id. at 141:5-7; 147:23-24.) When Mr. Dodge asked about other positions, Ms. Garrett interrupted that no positions were available and to contact Human Resources. (Id. at 141:10-21.) Mr. Dodge perceived this exchange to be a threat of discipline and an "aggressive attack." (Id. at 141:1-4.)

Mr. Dodge emailed Ms. Garrett about the incident later that day, sharing that he felt "sick to [his] stomach" by how he was treated. (Estok Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. 5 at 4.) He expressed his concern about returning to school on Monday because he did not "have any assurances or protections that [he] will be treated fairly ... [e]specially after the unprovoked attack." (Id. ) Ms. Garrett forwarded the email to Ms. Gomes and responded to Mr. Dodge two days later with a written summary of the events from her perspective. (See id. at 1-2; Garrett Dep. at 145:1-3.) Ms. Gomes replied separately to Ms. Garrett that it was an "[e]xcellent response." (Estok Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. 5 at 1.)

After the incident, Mr. Dodge experienced worsening symptoms that lingered from a stroke

he had suffered a year before. (Dodge Decl. ¶ 5.) He felt "sick and nervous" and had trouble walking and talking. (Dodge Dep. at 172:23-173:25.) He was unable to attend a HR meeting about the incident the following Monday, August 26, 2019, with Ms. Garrett, Ms. Gomes, and his union representative. (Id. at 172:17-173:5.) His union representative let him know after the meeting that the District would not do anything further about the situation. (Id. at 176:6-25.) Subsequently, on August 27, 2019, Mr. Dodge filed a Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying ("HIB") complaint with the District against Ms. Garrett. (Id. at 180:1-5.) The next day, having not heard anything in response, Mr. Dodge began "thinking to [him]self ... does anybody care?" and did not believe he could adequately teach due to his increased stuttering, difficulty walking, inability to focus, and other symptoms of a panic attack. (Id. at 176:10-15; 177:18-21; 180:1-9; 181:8-21.) He took a half-day off and has been on medical leave since then. (Id. at 180:10-13; Estok Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. 3 at 79:9-12; Dodge Decl. ¶ 5.)

The District, after receiving Mr. Dodge's HIB complaint, began its own investigation. Ms. Gomes oversaw the process, having already been familiar with the situation through her conversations with Ms. Garrett. (Estok Decl. ¶ 8, Ex. 6 at 1.) Ms. Gomes contacted a third-party organization, Clear Risk Solutions ("CRS"), for an independent investigation. (Gomes Decl. (Dkt. # 31) ¶ 3; see Hoff Rep.) Mr. Chad Hoff from CRS interviewed staff members at Wy'East, several of whom expressed discomfort at seeing Mr. Dodge's MAGA hat. (Hoff Rep. at 8, 11,...

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