Whistleblowers file lawsuits against Oklahoma education boss, top aide

May 30, 2023, 3:35 PM | Updated: 4:28 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two former employees at the State Department of Education filed separate federal lawsuits Tuesday against Republican State Superintendent Ryan Walters and his top aide, alleging they were wrongfully fired last week.

Cheryl McGee, the agency’s former executive director of school-based mental health, claims in her lawsuit she was fired after being accused of sharing an email with the media. Matthew Colwell, who was a program manager of school success, says he was fired for sharing information with a state representative and the attorney general’s office that Walters’ proposed teacher pay plan violated federal and state laws and could end up costing the state $18 million.

Both lawsuits claim Matt Langston, Walters’ chief policy advisor, sent an email last week to all employees at the agency threatening to terminate anyone who leaked internal documents to the press. Langston allegedly prepared the email in a format so that he could “trap” employees who shared the email with the media, McGee’s lawsuit states.

“There were two purposes for this email. The first was to intimidate and chill the First Amendment rights of employees,” McGee’s lawsuit says. “The second was to retaliate against employees who shared information about matters of public concern in the Department of Education with members of the press or outside officials.”

Mark Hammons, the attorney for both plaintiffs, described both of them as whistleblowers and said they are entitled to actual and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees.

Justin Holcomb, a spokesman for the agency, said the lawsuits were without merit.

“These legal claims are absurd, frivolous and a waste of taxpayer time and money,” Holcomb said in a text message to The Associated Press. “It’s a political stunt with no legal merit.”

Also on Tuesday, a third former employee at the agency filed a tort claim notice of her intent to sue for wrongful termination after she claims she was fired for speaking to her local school board. Janessa Bointy, a school counselor specialist, identified herself as a state employee but told the board she was speaking only as a concerned parent. Bointy is represented by The Center for Employment Law.

Walters, a former public school teacher elected to the top public education job in November, has released a jarring video last week portraying Walters as a crusader against woke ideology that many teachers said was misleading propaganda.

The state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, in an editorial on Tuesday called for lawmakers to explore ways to force him from office.


Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter: @apseanmurphy

National News

Associated Press

Thousands of Nebraskans with felony convictions could be denied voting rights under AG’s opinion

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Thousands of Nebraskans with felony convictions could be denied voting rights under an opinion from the state attorney general released Wednesday. Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers issued an opinion that says a law passed earlier this year to immediately restore the voting rights of people who’ve finished serving their felony convictions […]

12 minutes ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Servic...

Associated Press

Multiple failures, multiple investigations: Unraveling the attempted assassination of Donald Trump

BUTLER, Pa. (AP) — The young man was pacing around the edges of the Donald Trump campaign rally, shouldering a big backpack and peering into the lens of a rangefinder toward the rooftops behind the stage where the former president would stand. His behavior was so odd, so unlike that of the other rallygoers, that […]

39 minutes ago

Texas state District Judge J.R. Flores hears arguments from Catholic Charities attorney William Pow...

Associated Press

Another Texas migrant aid group asks a judge to push back on investigation by Republican AG

EDINBURG, Texas (AP) — A prominent aid group along the U.S.-Mexico border asked a Texas judge on Wednesday to push back on a widening Republican-led investigation into nonprofits that help migrants, weeks after a separate court rejected efforts by the state to shutter an El Paso shelter. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley provides […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Former Mozambican finance minister, Manuel Chang, is seen in court in Kempton Park, Johannes...

Associated Press

Former Mozambique finance minister on trial in US over ‘tuna bond’ scandal that spurred debt crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — The “ tuna bond ” scandal that shook Mozambique’s economy is washing into a U.S. court, where a former Mozambican finance minister is being tried on charges that he took bribes to commit his country — secretly — to huge loans that prosecutors say got looted. When the loans — supposed […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

EPA watchdog investigating delays in how the agency used sensor plane after fiery Ohio derailment

The EPA’s Inspector General is investigating why the agency didn’t get its specialized plane loaded with advanced sensors into the air over East Palestine until four days after the disastrous Norfolk Southern derailment last year. The Associated Press reported on a whistleblower’s concerns this spring about the delays and discrepancies in the way the Environmental […]

1 hour ago

FILE - This artist depiction shows Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, right, appea...

Associated Press

Pentagon leaker Jack Teixeira to face a military court-martial, Air Force says

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Air National Guard member Jack Teixeira, who pleaded guilty in March to federal criminal charges for leaking highly classified military documents, will now face a military court-martial. Teixeira admitted to illegally collecting some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets and sharing them on the social media platform Discord. He is facing […]

2 hours ago

Whistleblowers file lawsuits against Oklahoma education boss, top aide