JEFFREY A. BLODGETT, Plaintiff and Appellant,
STATE OF MONTANA, et al., Defendants and Appellees.
Submitted on Briefs: September 5, 2018
FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In
and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DV-17-939(A)
Honorable Amy Eddy, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Jeffrey A. Blodgett, self-represented, Ronan,
Appellees: Courtney Mathieson, Special Assistant Attorney
General, Risk Management and Tort Defense Division, Helena,
Pursuant to Section 1, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court
Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum
opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as
precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition
shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of
noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and
Jeffrey Blodgett (Blodgett) appeals the Flathead County
District Court's Order granting the State of
Montana's motion for summary judgment on his wrongful
discharge from employment and whistleblowing complaint.
Blodgett began work for the State of Montana's Judicial
Branch on October 19, 2015, as a Deputy Juvenile Probation
Officer in the Twentieth Judicial District. The operative
Montana Judicial Branch Personnel Policy and Procedure
provides that new Judicial Branch employees are subject to a
one-year probationary period. During his employment, Blodgett
reported what he believed to be ethical and public policy
violations committed by his supervisor, Barbara Monaco, Chief
Juvenile Probation Officer (Monaco). Monaco informed Blodgett
via letter dated October 6, 2016, of her decision to
terminate his employment effective that same day. The letter
explained the multiple reasons for Blodgett's
termination, including his disruptive and defiant conduct.
The letter further informed Blodgett that as a probationary
employee, Montana law afforded him no grievance rights.
Blodgett did not file a claim with the Montana Human Rights
Bureau (HRB). Instead, Blodgett filed suit in Flathead County
District Court on September 26, 2017, alleging he was
terminated in retaliation for whistleblowing in violation of
the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) and Montana
Human Rights Act (MHRA). The State filed for summary judgment
in November 2017 and the issues were fully briefed. The Court
entered its order granting the State summary judgment on all
claims on January 4, 2018. Blodgett appeals.
We review a district court's ruling on summary judgment
de novo, using the same standards as the district court. We
review a district court's resolution of issues of law
such as statutory interpretation to determine whether they
are correct. Blehm v. St. John's Lutheran Hosp.,
Inc., 2010 MT 258, ¶ 9, 358 Mont. 300, 246 P.3d
1024 (internal citations omitted).
Blodgett first alleges his termination violated the WDEA.
Blodgett agrees he was terminated within his probationary
period. The WDEA provides the exclusive remedy for wrongful
discharge from employment, and preempts common-law remedies.
Sections 39-2-902, -913, MCA. The WDEA specifically provides
that employment may be terminated for any reason or for no
reason during a probationary period. Section 39-2-904(2),
MCA. The question is whether a whistleblower can be
terminated in the probationary period.
In Blehm, a terminated hospital employee argued an
employee discharged during probation should still have the
right to sue under the WDEA if she alleges that the discharge
arose from a refusal to violate public policy or for
reporting a violation of public policy. Blehm,
¶ 19. We affirmed summary judgment for the hospital
because "[a]dopting Blehm's argument would require
this Court to substantially re-write critical provisions of
the [WDEA], contrary to § 1-2-101, MCA."
Blehm, ¶ 20. Under Blehm,
Blodgert's WDEA whistleblower claims would fail because
he was terminated as a probationary employee. See also,
Dundas v. Winter Sports, Inc., 2017 MT 269, 389 Mont.
223, 410 P.3d 177 (probationary seasonal ski resort employee
who claimed whistleblower status properly discharged).
Blodgett also alleges wrongful termination for whistleblowing
under § 49-2-301, MCA (part of the MHRA). However, he
does not allege he was discharged for opposing discrimination
as a member of a protected class (race, creed, religion,
color, national origin, age, physical or mental disability,
marital status, or sex). Section 49-2-303, MCA. Further, even
if he had alleged discharge for membership in a protected
class, Blodgett failed to first file a claim with the HRB as
mandated by § 49-2-501, MCA. No facts here suggest the
exceptions for housing discrimination or collective
bargaining units could apply. For all these reasons,
Blodgert's MHRA claim also fails.
We have determined to decide this case pursuant to Section I,
Paragraph 3(c) of our Internal Operating Rules, which
provides for memorandum opinions. In the opinion of the
Court, the case presents a question controlled by settled ...