OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Many questions are left unanswered Thursday after an attorney and transgender ally was fired from the Oklahoma State Department of Education hours after the state board meeting last week.
Lori Murphy, former Assistant General Counsel, showed up to the January 26 Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting wearing a “Trans Ally” mask.
Later that day, she was fired.
Her termination letter did not state a reason.
Murphy did not want to be on camera but told KFOR that she was placed on an “Exempt Employees” list January 13, just days after Ryan Walters was sworn in as State Superintendent.
The new designation made her “at-will,” essentially fast-tracking her termination.
She had been at the education department since 2014.
Hired by Janet Barresi, Murphy served as an attorney through Joy Hofmeister’s two terms.
In 2021, Murphy resigned from her position overseeing rulemaking on the board of education because of her opposition to how it was handling HB1775, also known as the Anti-CRT law.
Walters, a supporter of HB1775, was asked if Murphy’s opposition lead to her termination.
“I’m not going to answer any personal questions,” said Walters on Wednesday after he presented the education budget to lawmakers. “We have been really clear on our position that we want indoctrination out of the classroom.”
The quick exit for Murphy sparked questions about employees’ rights.
Mark Hammons, an employment attorney in Oklahoma City, said the status of “Protected” and “Exempt Employees” doesn’t matter a whole lot.
“A person whose employment is at will, but who works for the government may still have First Amendment protection,” said Hammons. “It does not depend on job security.”
He did acknowledge that the situation with Murphy is concerning.
“You’re supposed to be able to go to work for the state and still be a citizen and have the rights of a citizen,” said Hammons. “And that’s been eroded significantly over the past several years.”
Hammons said the details of the situation make all the difference when it comes to a potential lawsuit.
But in his experience, cases are harder to win now than ever.
“We’ve seen a weakening in our merit protection system, which was designed to be a guard against political patronage,” said Hammons.
During Murphy’s tenure, she held teachers accountable alleged for sexual assault and worked with district on Title IX corrective action plans.