Wrongful termination suit filed against county

May 5, 2019 | Courts|Featured|Headlines

By SHARON ROWEN |KAY NEWSCOW

NEWKIRK — Three Blackwell residents, who were fired by now former Kay County District No. 3 Commissioner Paul Skidmore, in 2018 have filed a wrongful termination suit against the county. A fourth employee fired is not participating in the lawsuit.

Pete Lively, Marvin Swopes, and Doreen Constant are represented by attorney Grace Yates and are suing the county for lost wages, back pay, civil penalties, liquidated damages, compensatory damages, including pain and suffering, emotional trauma, stress and any other costs and damages they are entitled to by law. The petition filed on April 22, indicates that Skidmore is being sued in his individual and official capacity.

Lively was hired by the county on Jan. 1, 1993, Swopes, Feb. 7, 2011, and Constant, Aug. 1, 2012. The trio claim they were terminated on June 26, 2018, because they expressed support for John Wilson, who was at the time running against Skidmore for the commission seat. Wilson defeated Skidmore in August and took office in Jan. 2019.

Allegations made in the petition include that on April 26, 2018, Skidmore threatened to terminate any employee who did not support him in his bid for re-election. The three admit to wearing shirts on May 27 supporting Wilson. Lively claims that on May 29, Skidmore confronted him about wearing the shirt, telling him that he would be fired if he was re-elected.

On June 26, the three were notified by secretary Teena Tucker of a mandatory meeting set for 7 a.m. June 27, the day after the election.
On election night the trio attended a Wilson watch party and are believed to have been spotted there by Skidmore. Carson Creed was also running for the office. A majority of the votes was not earned, and a runoff between Skidmore and Wilson was set for Aug. 28.

On June 27, the trio say they arrived at work for the mandatory meeting, but were presented papers and told to choose resignation or termination. They say Skidmore was present with district attorney Brian Hermanson when the papers were presented.

The three claim they were coerced by Skidmore and Hermanson to choose their method of termination and when they asked why, Hermanson reportedly told them Skidmore did not need a reason. Lively reportedly asked if he could apply to work for one of the other county barns so that he could retain his benefits. Hermanson reportedly replied, “This is happening right now.”

The trio were reportedly told to sign the paperwork. Each chose the termination paper over voluntary resignation in direct response to what they believe was coercion exhibited by Skidmore.

Following the firings, Skidmore introduced a measure to the board of commissioners that would prevent the county from hiring anyone who has filed a lawsuit against the county.

During the Oct. 9, 2018 commissioner meeting, Hermanson said, “If you previously sued the county you would not be hired whether you won or lost the suit.”

Commissioner Jack Godberson said, “These men were not given a reason why they were fired and I would hate for our hands to be tied.”

Skidmore said he was looking at the situation from a business stand point.

Other elected officials including the clerk, treasurer and sheriff indicated they were not comfortable with the idea and the resolution was tabled.

The plaintiffs believe their first amendment and procedural rights have been violated. They also believe Skidmore and the board purposefully and intentionally discriminated against them and that they suffered retaliation for their exercise of free speech.

According to the Oklahoma District Court Network, Skidmore was served a summons in the case on May 2.

No court dates have been set in the matter as of yet.