Where there’s smoke, I guess there’s ancient fire being extinguished by the Stitt Administration.
Last week, we were the only local media outlet to report that Shelley Zumwalt – the fast-rising, media-friendly star of the Stitt Administration who currently heads the Oklahoma Tourism Department – is being accused of age discrimination dating back to when she led the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
Claudia Conner – a long-time state employee who most recently reported to Zumwalt as General Counsel for Employment Security Commission – is suing the state, claiming Zumwalt hired her as a cover for an organized purge of "dowdy and frumpy" older employees within the agency.
Conner also claims Zumwalt then fired her – despite a recent raise and positive review – in retaliation for reporting a vendor to HR. That vendor would later be hired by the agency, only to accept a job with Zumwalt's husband's IT firm – a big state contractor – a month or two later.
Not too long after the story was published, the Ogle Mole Network lit up with dispatches letting us know this wasn’t the first time Shelley Zumwalt has been accused of purging olds from a state agency!
Thanks to the Ogle Mole Network, we’ve learned that Zumwalt is also the focal point of a different age discrimination claim that dates back to 2019, when she served as Chief Communications Officer for the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority!
According to the lawsuit, just two weeks after Zumwalt was hired by the agency, she fired Jo Stainsby – 55-year-old who served as the agency’s communications director for over 20 years – citing the always vague “performance issues.”
I read DeGiusti’s complete ruling – it also includes another case filed by Lekenya Antwine who claims she was fired by Melody Anthony, the Chief Operating Officer of the OHCA, due to her gender and age – and my main takeaway was “Holy Shit! This is why I never went to law school.”
To help me translate the legalese, I fed it into Chat GPT 4 and asked the AI to break it down into 10 easy-to-explain bullet points that focus specifically on Stainsby’s case. This is what our future artificial overlord told me:
Once again, DeGiusti's ruling was issued back in February. I guess both sides are meeting tomorrow for a court-ordered settlement conference. If that goes nowhere, I assume the case goes to trial.
In a normal, functioning world, it may seem kind of odd that a Governor would appoint someone to lead a big, high-profile agency when that person is currently at the center of two age-discrimination lawsuits could cost the state a bunch of money.
But remember – this world is anything but normal and functioning.
More than likely, Stitt and Co. loved the fact that Zumwalt was running the state like a business and getting rid of older, qualified, primarily female state employees who served the Oklahoma people, and replacing them with younger, more obedient men who served the Oklahoma Governor.
In fact, that rationale probably explains why Zumwalt is flying up the ladders of state government faster than Sarah Stitt speeding down the road in a state vehicle!
Kevin Stitt does seem like the type of guy who equates firing experienced people, possibly based on their age or gender, to strong leadership skills:
“Shelley is smart, hardworking and boasts a proven and impressive track record of strong leadership during her time at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission,” Stitt said in a news release. “I look forward to her taking on this new role and am confident in her ability to promote our great state.”
Anyway, in addition to the age discrimination stuff, I’m also hearing interesting things related to Zumwalt and the IT Company her husband works for – Phase 2. They apparently do a lot of contract work for the state, and well, I’ll let you know what I find out on that front some other day.