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State Employees Group To File Lawsuit Against Oklahoma Health Department

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma
The Oklahoma State Department of Health building in Oklahoma City.

The largest group representing state government workers is preparing to sue the Oklahoma State Department of Health for $3 million on behalf of 161 former employees laid off during a financial crisis.

In November 2017, health department officials reported a sudden budget shortfall that led to the layoffs of nearly 200 employees and an emergency infusion from lawmakers of $30 million to help the agency stay solvent.

A six-month investigation by a grand jury into financial mismanagement ended the following spring with no criminal charges filed. The grand jury blamed the agency’s antiquated internal financial system and found evidence of misconduct, but none considered illegal under state laws.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association says the former employees were wrongfully terminated, forced to resign or take early retirement by the department. A representative for the state health department says 13 former employees have been hired back and 51 former employees are on a list notifying them when positions are available.

The employees association notified the health agency about the intended lawsuit late last month. The state has 90 days to respond but hasn’t so far.

Jackie Fortiér worked for StateImpact Oklahoma from November 2017 to January 2020, reporting on a variety of topics and heading up its health reporting initiative. She has many journalism awards to her name during her years of multi-media reporting in Colorado, and was part of a team recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists with a Sigma Delta Chi award for excellence in breaking news reporting in 2013.
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