Oregon Biker Scores a Win in Discrimination Case
UPDATED PRESS RELEASE: Oregon Biker Scores a Win in Discrimination Case
August 16, 2016
After 14 years of spotless service, Ron Godwin was fired from his job as an Oregon youth corrections officer because of his club patch. A Grants Pass police officer saw Godwin on his bike, wearing his club patch, called his boss and said Godwin was a member of a “criminal gang.” After a brief, so-called investigation, Godwin’s boss fired him. Oregon’s AIM (Aid to Injured Motorcyclists) and COC (Confederation of Clubs) Attorney Sam Hochberg took up the case and filed suit in Federal Court in Medford, with assistance from lawyer Chris Bottoms. Depositions were taken, and with the help of ACLU volunteer lawyer Sara K. Staggs, the case was thoroughly briefed.
The trial court ruled that, based on statements in depositions, Godwin had no case under the law. The case never got to the jury, but the ruling was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and argued by ACLU volunteer lawyer Cody Hoesly. On August 10, 2016, a three judge panel from the Ninth Circuit issued a 17-page Memorandum opinion, including one dissent, and reversed that decision, sending it back to District Court for trial.
The panel analyzed cases about government employees’ rights of free speech and association, and found the State showed no legitimate interest that outweighed Ron Godwin’s First Amendment rights. As a Memorandum decision, the ruling isn’t legal precedent, but may be cited in cases that are before the Ninth Circuit, which includes nine Western states and Guam.
“This is an important decision for the free speech and free association rights of all bikers, and club members in particular,” says Hochberg, now “Of Counsel” to the new Oregon and Washington AIM and Oregon COC Attorney, Christopher Slater. The case of Ronald Godwin v. Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility, et al, now goes back to the trial court, absent further appeal or settlement.
Please note update! This is useful nationwide: Above states the case can only be heard in the Ninth Circuit, but because of a 2006 rule change (noted below), this opinion has more power than originally thought. The current Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure says that this Memorandum opinion CAN be cited in ANY Federal Court in the nation. Because it’s an “unpublished opinion,” or a “Memorandum opinion” one would have to attach a copy of the opinion to any brief filed. Here is the rule:
(a.) Citation Permitted. A court may not prohibit or restrict the citation of federal judicial opinions, orders, judgments, or other written dispositions that have been:
(i.) designated as “unpublished,” “not for publication,” “non‑precedential,” “not precedent,” or the like; and
(ii.) issued on or after January 1, 2007.
(b) Copies Required. If a party cites a federal judicial opinion, order, judgment, or other written disposition that is not available in a publicly accessible electronic database, the party must file and serve a copy of that opinion, order, judgment, or disposition with the brief or other paper in which it is cited.