OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (AP) - Two former State Department of Education employees filed separate federal lawsuits against Republican State Superintendent Ryan Walters on Tuesday. They claim they were wrongfully terminated last week.
Cheryl McGee claims that she was fired from her position as the former executive director for school-based mental healthcare after she was accused of sending an email to the media. Matthew Colwell was a manager at the School Success Program. He claims he was terminated for sharing with the Attorney General's Office and a State Representative that Walters proposed teacher pay plan could violate federal and state laws, and cost the state up to $18 million.
In both lawsuits, Matt Langston, Walters chief policy adviser, is alleged to have sent an email to all agency employees last week threatening termination for anyone who leaks internal documents to media. McGee's suit claims that Langston prepared the email so he could entrap employees who shared it with the media.
The email had two purposes. McGee claims that the first purpose of this email was to intimidate employees and suppress their First Amendment rights. The second was retaliation against employees who had shared information with the media or other officials about issues of public concern at the Department of Education.
Mark Hammons is the attorney representing both plaintiffs. He described them both as whistleblowers. They are also entitled to punitive and actual damages as well as attorneys fees.
Justin Holcomb said that the lawsuits had no merit.
Holcomb told The Associated Press in a message that 'these legal claims are frivolous, absurd and a waste taxpayer time and money'. It's a politically motivated stunt that has no legal basis.
A third former employee of the agency also filed a tort claims notice on Tuesday stating her intention to sue for wrongful dismissal after claiming she was fired because she spoke to her local school council. Janessa Bointy was a school counseling specialist who identified herself as an employee of the state but claimed to be a parent. Bointy's lawyer is The Center for Employment Law.
Walters, the former teacher who was elected in November to be the head of public education, has been criticized by members of his party for his fervent rhetoric on banning books and fighting "woke ideology" in public schools, as well as his claim that teachers indoctrinate children with liberal ideologies. His agency
Released a shocking video
Last week, Walters was portrayed as a crusader for a woke ideology by many teachers. They said that this was false propaganda.
The Oklahoman is the largest newspaper in Oklahoma.
Editorial for Tuesday
Calling on lawmakers to find ways to remove him from office
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