OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – A former Oklahoma Christian University professor, who was allegedly fired for having a gay guest speaker talk to his class, is now firing back with a lawsuit.
“You have a 41-year tenured professor who got fired for bringing in a gay guest speaker,” said Kevin Jacobs, Michael O’Keefe’s lawyer. “It was a shocking, shocking development… We really were left at the point with the only option to address these issues being to involve a court.”
Jacobs told KFOR that in March of 2022, O’Keefe invited Scott Hale, who is openly gay, to talk to his “Business of Branding Yourself” class about resiliency.
Hale is an alumnus of the University and was an adjunct professor there for nearly 20 years, according to the lawsuit.
“Scott is a gay man and he talked about how difficult it was to grow up in western Oklahoma and come to a school like Oklahoma Christian, at a time where being gay was not easy to be, if you will, publicly,” said Jacobs. “So, he told that story about just his own personal journey and really connected with the kids, not an advocacy of any type of gay rights.”
According to the lawsuit, that presentation was on March 1. O’Keefe was fired on March 7.
“It was alleged that Professor O’Keefe committed gross misconduct in having Mr. Hale come speak and it was conduct that was contrary to the mission and values of the school,” said Jacobs.
Back in March, Stephen Eck, the University’s Chief Legal Counsel told KFOR, “The decision to end employment was made after a thorough review process. The university will always put first the wellbeing of our students in every decision we make.”
O’Keefe and Hale both filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma County Court against the university and Eck individually on Dec. 28. One of their arguments listed is that O’Keefe’s contract was breached.
According to the filing, the former professor was granted tenure by OC on Jan. 8, 2001.
“As a tenured professor, O’Keefe was entitled to certain procedural protections pursuant to his Employment Agreement,” says the lawsuit. “Prior to terminating O’Keefe Defendant University was required to perform a thorough investigation, give notice of its allegation of ‘gross misconduct,’ provide O’Keefe with an opportunity to respond, and evaluate all results of its investigation when reaching its decision. Defendant University did not do so.”
They’re also arguing libel because, according to the lawsuit, Eck, “published a false, defamatory written statement related to O’Keefe’s termination and Hale’s presentation.”
Eck allegedly sent an email to OC’s faculty and staff claiming that Hale used “inappropriate and graphic language of a sexual nature” during his presentation. The email also alleged that O’Keefe used intimidation to “squelch students’ reporting or complaining about the content.”
The email the lawsuit is referring to can be found on page four:
“Eck issued the defamatory statements, when he knew, should have known, or recklessly disregarded that they were false,” said the lawsuit.
Two other arguments included are False Light and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.
“So, we will be going through a lot of investigation and depositions in order to give it a very clear picture on what happened and so that we can present that to a court,” said Jacobs.
In a statement on Friday, Oklahoma Christian University leadership told us that “OC looks forward to filing its responsive pleading with the court next week.”