Claiming age discrimination, several former Oklahoma County employees are suing the county and District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan. The workers have filed a government tort claims notice with the county, the first step toward a lawsuit.
"It's what has to happen first before the lawsuit can take place," said plaintiff attorney Josh Stockton. "Oklahoma law requires when filing a lawsuit against a government entity, you have to file a tort claim notice with the government agency. It has to be done within a year of being terminated."
Stockton said his firm is representing seven former county employees who are pursuing legal action.
The events leading up to the tort claim started last fall when Maughan, commissioner for District 2, suspended 16 members of his staff. At the time, Maughan said the suspension was due to possible illegal activity involving the employees and the misuse of county property and equipment.
Maughan requested the county sheriff 's office investigate the matter and, upon their findings, turned the information over to the district attorney's office. Prosecutors wanted more information and sent the case back to the sheriff for further investigation.
According to one filed tort claim, Danny Lee Chitwood accuses Maughan and his staff of engaging in an effort to get rid of the older and long-term employees of the office " a violation of the U.S. Department of Labor's Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
Chitwood, 54 at the time he was let go, was hired by the county in February 2000 as a truck driver. "Following Maughan's election (in 2008), Maughan and other officials of Oklahoma County embarked on a campaign to discriminate against the older workers as a class," the claim alleges.
In September of last year, Maughan placed several of his employees on administrative leave, pending an investigation. Chitwood said he was terminated a few weeks later on Oct. 1. He claims Maughan told him during his termination meeting that Chitwood should resign or be fired and face criminal prosecution.
Chitwood claims he is being accused of "non-criminal" activity that occurred nine years ago.
"The reasons given for his discharge " that he committed criminal activity and faced the threat of criminal prosecution " were merely pretexts for the underlying discrimination," according to Chitwood's tort claim.
Oklahoma Gazette asked Maughan for a response to the accusations, but he refused on advice from the district attorney's office.
The tort claim is seeking damages in excess of $10,000. Maughan and the county have 90 days to respond to the filed claim by either denying or admitting the allegations.
"Usually, no action is taken, and by law, that means it's denied," Stockton said. "That's the first procedural hurdle" to filing a lawsuit.
This is not the first time Maughan's office has been involved in an investigation into matters which could lead to criminal charges. After Commissioner Brent Rinehart's departure, a two-year-old, uncashed check for $71,000 was discovered in a desk drawer of a former county employee. Maughan also claimed to have discerned that for more than a decade, the county had been paying for welding tanks that could not be located.