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Oklahoma WCC may re-fire employees who filed employment lawsuit

The Oklahoma State Workers' Compensation Commission (WCC) has been in the news quite a bit recently, and not in a good way. A lawyer for the state attorney general's office gave bad advice to the commission with regard to compliance with Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act (OMA), and then five of 16 employees that were fired by the commission in July filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging violation of the OMA and discrimination. A sixth former employee has apparently filed a separate suit in which she claims the workers' compensation commission fired her in retaliation, ironically, for filing a workers' compensation claim.

The WCC began operating in February after the state legislature decided to move to an administrative-based workers' compensation from the previous judicially-based system. It held a meeting on July 9th, at which time the decision was made to fire the 16 workers in question. Sources contend that it is unclear whether that meeting was in violation of the OMA, as there is ambiguity as to who has the authority to fire employees.

The five employees involved in the first lawsuit contend that not only did the meeting violate the OMA, but that the firings were impermissible as they were predicated on the basis of age discrimination. The plaintiffs point to the fact that 13 of the 16 former workers were over the age of 40. They seek reinstatement, back wages, damages for emotional distress and attorney's fees. The state attorney general's office has advised the WCC to hold another hearing to remedy the alleged OMA violation, at which time the workers can be fired again. This is all in an attempt to mitigate the potential damages the state would have to pay if a court rules against it.

Federal and state employment law protects several classes of individuals from termination of employment based solely upon membership in one of those classes. These classes are, generally, race, religion, ethnicity, gender and age. The law also prohibits retaliation by employers against an employee who attempts to collect benefits to which he or she is entitled. In these circumstances, a person that feels he or she was wrongfully terminated may wish to discuss the details with a legal professional with experience in employment law to determine what, if any, legal action is possible to redress the grievance.

Source: The Oklahoman, "Fired Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission workers may get fired again," Randy Ellis, Aug. 6, 2014

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