Former state employees threatens with legal action over “unnecessary” layoffs

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Public Employee's Association (OPEA) is threatening to seek legal action if the Oklahoma State Health Department (OSDH) doesn't rehire some employees.

It was last year when health officials announced they needed to layoff about 200 employees.

Former employee, Wendy Morton, doesn't know if she'll take her job back.

"Actually, today would have been my 23rd anniversary at the state health department," said Morton.

For more than 20 years Morton said she worked in financial management at OSDH, until it all ended.

"I was terminated December the 8th," said Morton.

Morton was one of nearly 200 employees let go because of budget issues, however, an audit showed there was never any financial trouble just mismanagement.

"I was required to hold people to such a high standard, that our leaders didn't hold themselves too," said Morton.

The audit and attorney general said the layoffs were unnecessary.

Now OPEA is demanding the workers get their jobs back.

"The problem is, they were laid off, or fired as we think, under false pretense so we asked the Health Department to do a recall of all 200 employees, put them back in their positions they were in, make them whole; or give them comparable jobs," said executive director Sterling Zearley.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association is giving the health department 90 days to rehire the workers.

"They have refused so now we’ve sent them a notice that were going to seek civil action," said Zearley.

The legal document was handed over back in September. OPEA lawyers are asking for $3 million.

In a statement a spokesperson with OSDH said,

"We regret the impact that the Reduction-In-Force had on our former employees. The agency had been in discussions with OPEA and their counsel, and there are still legal and financial questions that must be carefully reviewed surrounding the Reduction-In-Force. OSDH has also aggressively engaged in recalling classified positions that were vacated during the Reduction-In-Force. We feel the strain on our service delivery around the state, primarily in County Health Departments, from this forced departure and have tried to expedite the recall process within the boundaries of current law."

However, Zearley said this doesn't make up for the jobs loss.

"The problem is we lost 200 valued employees," Zearley said.

As for Morton, she has a new job but wants justice for other employees.

"I understand Mr. Bates isn't responsible for the mess that the agency is in, but he's still the leader and it's his responsible to step up," said Morton.

The health department's Recall information through 10/16/18:
· 108 RIF employees have been taken off the recall list (13 rehired from the recall, 3 opted out, 92 failed to respond)
· 51 RIF employees remain on the recall list