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Ryan Langston-Walters faces first wrongful termination lawsuit!

2:27 PM EDT on May 30, 2023

We’re already seeing fallout from Ryan Langston-Waters’s covert operation to weed out Moles in the Oklahoma Department of Education. 

Earlier today, Chanel 25’s Payton May reported that Cheryl McGee – a mental health professional who, until last week, served as the Executive Director of School-Based Mental Health for OSDE – has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in federal court claiming she was fired last week for expressing her, uhm, first amendment right to leak to the press all the crazy shit Ryan Walters and his little worm tongue Matt Langston is doing at the agency. 

Or something like that.

Via Payton’s Twitter:

Update: The Oklahoman is reporting that another former agency employee, Matthew Colwell, the executive director of school success, has also filed a lawsuit.

I think we all knew Ryan would take his mission to destroy the OSDE from the inside seriously, but opening up the agency to various lawsuits thanks to his own incompetence is a shrewd move! If turning down federal grant money and shifting more public funding money to private schools won’t bankrupt the agency, maybe opening it up to hundreds of wrongful termination lawsuits will!

I tried to look up the whole lawsuit online and, well, you’d think our government would make it easier to find lawsuits. 

Although I couldn’t locate it, it was apparently filed by local employment attorney Mark Hammons. He’s become the local go-to litigator for state employees who have faced various types of discrimination from the Stitt regime. I would call and ask him for a copy of the lawsuit, but he never returned my emails or messages when I reached out about the ageism lawsuit one of his clients filed against Tourism Director Shelly Zumwalt. I guess Stitt and Co. are keeping him busy!

Anyway, I guess the big question here is whether or not Cheryl has a case.

Although I love seeing Walters and Langston being named in a lawsuit, and can’t wait to see what details spill onto the floor like a dropped cup of coffee at the Harbor Mountain Coffee House, this doesn’t seem as cut and dry as an age discrimination or racism claim.

First of all, back in January, several months before Ryan and Matt dreamed up their Dwight Schrute-worthy investigation, the agency’s HR director did warn employees they faced termination if caught leaking documents. 

I know this because it was leaked to us by a state employee:

Two, does sending a screenshot of an email to Wendy Suares or whoever really constitute “exercising free speech?” 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m pulling for Cheryl to get some Oklahoma taxpayer dollars out of all this, but it’s not like she was fired for leaving a TikTok video saying she supports Oklahoma teachers, or that her new boss is a right-wing nut and disgrace to Oklahoma education. 

To see what type of case she had, I pulled up the always reliable Chat GPT and got its thoughts.

I asked it “Can a state employee in Oklahoma file a wrongful termination lawsuit on first amendment grounds?

Here’s our future overlord’s answer:

Public employees in the United States, including Oklahoma, do have some First Amendment rights in the workplace, but they are not absolute. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech, religion, and the press, the right to assemble and petition the government.

In the context of public employment, it has been established by the U.S. Supreme Court that public employees do not surrender their First Amendment rights merely because of their employment. They have the right to speak out on matters of public concern. However, if their speech is in relation to personal employment disputes or grievances, then it might not be protected.

To successfully file a wrongful termination lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, an employee typically needs to show that:

1. Their speech involved a matter of public concern;

2. Their interest in commenting on these matters outweighed the interest of the state as an employer in promoting efficient public service; and

3. Their speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the termination.

It's important to note that these are general rules and could have been subject to changes or adjustments by federal or state court decisions since my last update in 2021. Moreover, the specific circumstances of the case also matter.

I then got more specific and asked “What if the employee of an agency shared a screenshot of an email to the press after being warned doing so violates agency rules?

If a public employee shares an internal agency communication, such as an email, with the press after being warned against doing so as it violates agency rules, it might lead to disciplinary action, including termination. While public employees have First Amendment rights, those rights are balanced against the government's interest in maintaining an effective and efficient workplace.

A key issue here is whether the shared communication is a matter of "public concern." If the email pertains to a personal dispute or grievance, or is not related to a broader societal issue, it may not be protected under the First Amendment. However, if the email relates to a matter of public concern (such as evidence of government fraud, corruption, or significant incompetence), the First Amendment protections could potentially apply.

Furthermore, the courts may also consider the disruption caused by the disclosure. Even if the email content addresses a matter of public concern, if the disclosure significantly disrupts operations, undermines trust and relationships necessary for the agency's functions, or violates legitimate privacy interests, these factors may outweigh the employee's First Amendment rights.

If an employee is fired for such an act, whether or not they can successfully claim wrongful termination on First Amendment grounds will likely depend on these factors, and possibly others, according to the specifics of the case.

Basically, it looks like a lot of this will come down to whether or not a judge or jury considers leaking the agency’s policy on leaking documents – if that is in fact what Cheryl did – to be “a matter of public concern.” Considering the whole point of the email was to catch whistleblowers and leakers, I think that you can make that argument. 

Then again, what do I and large-language models know? I guess we’ll let the legal system take things from here.

Anyway, if you're a state employee and want to exercise your first amendment rights by leaking us info, hit us up on the TLO Tip Line! We'll run any emails or documents you want to share through Chat GPT so they can't be traced back to you. Basically, we'll turn the weapon Ryan Langston-Walters used on employees back on him.

Stay with The Lost Ogle. We'll keep you advised.

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