United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division
OPINION & ORDER
MICHAEL McSHANE United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on Motions for Summary Judgment
filed by Plaintiff Ronald Godwin and Defendants Ken Jerin,
Colette Peters, and Jean Straight (collectively “the
State Defendants, ”). ECF Nos. 130, 132. The Court
heard oral argument on the motions on August 9, 2017. ECF No.
153. For the reasons set forth below, the State
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Godwin's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED as MOOT.
Oregon Youth Authority (“OYA”) is a state
correctional agency responsible for housing and reforming
youth offenders. The mission of OYA “is to protect the
public and reduce crime by holding youth offenders
accountable and providing opportunities for reformation in
safe environments.” Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at. 1, ECF No.
131. Defendant Colette Peters was the Director of OYA in
2010. Compl. 3. Defendant Jean Straight was the Assistant
Director of Business Services for OYA in 2010. Compl. 3. The
OYA operates the Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility
(“RVYCF”) in Grants Pass, Oregon. Defendant Ken
Jerin was the Superintendent of RVYCF. Compl. 3.
Ronald Godwin was contracted by OYA to serve as the religious
services coordinator, volunteer coordinator, and chaplain at
RVYCF from 1997 until his termination in September 2010.
Godwin Decl. ECF No. 88. In that capacity, Godwin was to
provide “a full range of religious services, ” to
the RVYCF residents, including arranging for the recruitment
and coordination of religious volunteers and meeting
individually with youth to identify religious needs. Lippold
Decl. Ex. 1, at 1-2; Godwin Decl. The record reflects that
Godwin's service was exemplary and he was honored with
the Director's Award in March 2010. Godwin Decl.
was at one time a member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club. Godwin
Decl. The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment designated the
Vagos as a criminal organization and “Outlaw Motorcycle
Gang, ” or “OMG, ” known to be active and
growing in Oregon. Lippold Decl. Ex. 2, at 3, 5, 10. The
Assessment noted that gang members, including members of
OMGs, were known to have applied for or gained employment
with police, judicial, or correctional agencies nationwide:
OMGs engage in routine and systematic exploitation and
infiltration of law enforcement and government infrastructure
to protect and perpetrate their criminal activities. OMGs
regularly solicit information of intelligence value from
government or law enforcement employees.
[National Gang Intelligence Center] reporting indicates that
gang members in at least 72 jurisdictions have compromised or
corrupted judicial, law enforcement, or correctional staff
within the past three years.
Lippold Decl. Ex. 2, at 8.
Godwin acknowledged that a number of Vagos from the Grants
Pass area have been convicted of criminal activity, he
described the group as motorcycle enthusiasts who join
together to enjoy the open road. Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at
18-20, 30. Godwin described himself as holding a
“chaplain-type” role within the Vagos. Godwin
Decl. Ex. 12, at 1; Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 17. There is no
indication that Godwin had personally engaged in any criminal
activity, either as a member of the Vagos or otherwise.
Lippold Decl. Ex. 6, at 2; Ex. 8, at 4. Godwin
“retired” from membership in the Vagos in 2003.
Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 2.
of the Vagos advertise their affiliation by wearing the Vagos
“cut” and “colors, ” including a
patch depicting the Norse god Loki. Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at
3-4, 10. As a retired member, Godwin was permitted to wear
the cut and colors of the Vagos when attending club functions
or with the permission of the local chapter president.
Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 4-5. There are no special insignia or
markings that would distinguish the cut and colors of a
retired member of the Vagos from those of an active member.
Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 11-12.
2010, Grants Pass police observed Godwin wearing the Vagos
cut and colors on “numerous” occasions, both
alone and when riding in the company of other Vagos. Lippold
Decl. Ex. 3, at 3-4. In particular, the Grants Pass police
reported that on April 30, 2010, Godwin was seen riding his
motorcycle in full Vagos regalia and that he made a rude
gesture at a passing police cruiser, and that on June 25,
2010, Godwin was involved in a traffic stop while wearing his
Vagos cut and colors and riding with five to seven members of
the Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3-4. Godwin acknowledges
at least some of those incidents, although he denies
directing a rude gesture at the police. Lippod Decl. Ex. 3,
at 2; Ex. 4, at 29; Godwin Decl. Ex.23, at 1-2. On July 9,
2010, Grants Pass Police Chief Bill Landis contacted the OYA
headquarters to report that Godwin was a “patch-wearing
member of a documented criminal organization.” Lippold
Decl. Ex. 3, at 2. OYA suspended Godwin's employment
pending their investigation into Landis's allegations.
Godwin Decl.; Lippold Decl. Ex. 7, at 2.
maintains that he never concealed his membership in the
Vagos, either before or after his retirement from the group.
Godwin Decl. Godwin says that several of his co-workers,
including supervisors, knew of his involvement with the
Vagos. Godwin Decl. The record is not clear how widespread
the knowledge of Godwin's association actually was,
however. The record contains a number of declarations from
Godwin's coworkers indicating that they were either
unaware of his association with the Vagos until 2010, or that
they believed his association was historical rather than
current. See Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 2 (Decl. of
Doug Williams); Ex. 7 (Decl. of Pam Boston); Ex. 8 (Decl. of
Louise Pizer); Ex. 10 (Decl. of Matt Sweeney), ECF No. 139.
Many of these coworkers expressed dismay at learning that
Godwin had been seen in the community wearing Vagos colors
while working for OYA. Jerin also testified that he was not
aware of anyone at RVYCF who knew of Godwin's association
with the Vagos. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 2.
12, 2010, Director Peters assigned Ken Jeske of the OYA
Professional Standards Office to investigate the reports of
Godwin's membership in the Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at
2; Ex. 6, at 3. On July 15, 2010, Godwin called Jeske to give
a statement. Godwin admitted his past membership in the
Vagos, but told Jeske that he had retired from the
organization. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2. Godwin stated that
he was aware of the organization's criminal activity
“through the newspaper” and from statements made
by other Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2. Godwin admitted
that he still had his Vagos cut and colors and gave
contradictory statements about his recent involvement with
the Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2 (“He stated he had
not be involved with them [the Vagos] for 15 to 20
years.”) (“He stated he did attend [a recent
Vagos function] and did wear his coat containing the patch in
question.”), at 2-3 (“He stated that he does not
attend any club functions and described the recent reported
activity as a 30 club Run. . . .”), and at 3
(“Godwin stated he has not worn his coat or attended
any Vagos functions prior to this event or
following.”). Jeske informed Godwin that local law
enforcement had expressed concerns about Godwin's
affiliation with the Vagos and told Godwin that “by
wearing those colors he was supporting a criminal
organization and representing Rogue Valley Youth Correctional
Facility as a contractor for religious services.”
Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3. Godwin stated that he used his
past experiences and involvement with the Vagos as a positive
example of personal reform and self-improvement in his work
at RVYCF. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3. Godwin offered to stop
wearing his Vagos cut and colors and to disassociate himself
from the organization. Godwin Decl.; Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at
16, 2010, Jeske submitted his investigative report, in which
he noted Godwin's explanations, but concluded that
“law enforcement reports multiple incidents indicating
Godwin is currently associating with a known criminal element
tracked by multiple law-enforcement agencies as a national
threat.” Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 1-2.
Straight also called Godwin during the investigation to ask
him if he had attended any local events while wearing his
Vagos colors. Godwin Decl. Godwin told her that he remembered
that he had worn his Vagos patches at “a couple of
local events.” Godwin Decl. This statement would appear
to contradict at least some of what Godwin told Jeske about
the extent of his involvement with the Vagos in 2010.
report was reviewed by Straight, Jerin, and Peters. In her
deposition, Peters testified that she believed Godwin's
association with the Vagos and his public display of Vagos
colors ran counter to the mission of the OYA. Second Lippold
Decl. Ex. 1, at 6. Peters felt that Godwin's association
with the Vagos would create a perception that “would
have interfered with [Godwin's] ability to help in the
transformation or reformation of the youth in our care and
custody.” Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at 4. Peters
observed that an OYA employee's reputation in the
community “bleed[s] into their work.” Lippold
Decl. Ex. 9, at 9. She was worried about how far knowledge of
Godwin's involvement with the Vagos had already spread or
would spread in the future. Lippold Decl. Ex. 9, at 9. Peters
expressed concern that Godwin's association with the
Vagos presented a threat to the safety and security of the
institution. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at 8-9.
Jerin also expressed concern about an OYA representative
publically associating with members of a criminal
organization. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 6-7. Jerin was
especially concerned because Godwin's role as religious
services coordinator put him in a position of mentorship with
the youth at the facility. Jerin worried that if those youths
were to see Godwin publically wearing Vagos colors, it would
send a message contrary to OYA's mission of
rehabilitation. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 7-8. Jerin
felt that knowledge of Godwin's association with the
Vagos would create a perception among RVYCF staff that Godwin
supported criminal activity in the community. Such
perceptions, he felt, would be damaging to employee morale.
Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 7.
agreed that Godwin's association with the Vagos
compromised his ability to work in a youth correctional
facility. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 6, at 2. Straight
testified that, as far as she knew, none of the residents of
the facility knew of Godwin's association with a criminal
organization and she believed that it would send a
counter-productive message if they were to learn of his
membership in the Vagos. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 6, at 2.
on Jeske's report, and after a conference with Straight
and Jerin, Peters determined that Godwin's contract
should be terminated. Lippold Decl. Ex. 7, at 2; Ex. 9, at
14; Ex. 10, at 2. On August 10, 2010, Straight sent a letter
to Godwin informing him that his contract with OYA was
terminated, effective September 15, 2010. Godwin Decl. Ex.
32. Godwin emailed Straight to ask the reason for his
termination and was ...