OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Shelley Zumwalt the Executive Director at the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department is named in two lawsuits claiming she fired former employees of two other state agencies based on their age, according to court records.
“I think it’s disturbing any time a public official has to deal with the same kinds of complaints, even though it was in a different job,” said Mark Hammons who represents clients in both cases.
One of the two involves Jo Stainsby who worked for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA). The other involves Claudia Conner who worked at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC).
Stainsby, according to court records was fired in 2019 and filed a case in 2021 claiming it was due to her age. Records state that Zumwalt was her boss at the time. Stainsby’s case was settled for $85,000 in April according to Hammons.
“You would hope that particularly public employers would learn from those cases and take care about how they treat employees, especially long-term employees. I haven’t seen much evidence of that,” said Hammons about Stainsby’s case. “Settlements are a compromise and you’re making a decision there. Do I want to spend the time and effort? And frankly, the emotional energy it takes to go through a lawsuit or do I want to resolve it? This was a good settlement.”
Emily Long from OHCA responded:
OHCA respectfully disagrees with the basis of Ms. Stainsby’s claims. We remain confident in our position in relation to the matter and was prepared to defend at trial; however, in the interest of saving taxpayer dollars a decision was reached to enter into an amicable resolution. OHCA is committed to being an equal employment opportunity employer.
Conner’s case remains ongoing but does more than claim age discrimination according to court documents. Records show that Conner claims she was fired due to her age, sex, and in retaliation.
It states that while Conner was employed under Zumwalt she was asked to “fire the old guards” when referring to the older employees.
Court records claim that while Conner was employed under Zumwalt she heard Zumwalt refer to older female employees as “dowdy and frumpy.”
For the retaliation claim, court documents state Conners was fired two days after reporting alleged inappropriate behavior on a vendor to Human Resources. It states that the vendor was a friend of Zumwalt’s husband and eventually was hired at OESC.
“We have good reason to believe that we’re going to be able to corroborate her story with other personal experiences from other employees,” said Hammons. “When discovery comes I really think we can show a pattern of evidence in terms of her (Zumwalt) treatment of people within OESC.”
Documents also state that after investigating, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination had occurred and issued a right-to-sue letter.
“I think that at least two things are going to happen,” said Hammons. “One is that the public ought to be concerned about it. And the second thing is that officials ought to examine what they’re doing and see if they’re doing something wrong.”
Currently, the Conner case is waiting after the February 9th document filed by the OESC asking to dismiss Conner’s complaint.
“It’s pending a motion to dismiss there and delays on that,” said Hammons. “I don’t want to be critical of the judge. The thing is, each of the judges has a lot of many cases not just ours. Those cases have certain dynamics within them that require different levels of attention. I have no doubt that the judge is giving it good and full attention.”
Hammons says he has heard of other claims against former employees who once worked under Zumwalt.
“The current climate seems to be that we’re just going to do what we want and not have much regard for the employees who you know, have worked there a long time. For the most part, they are very dedicated to their jobs and are what makes the government work when it does work.”
Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department told KFOR that they will not be commenting on pending litigation that involves other agencies.