State Supt. Ryan Walters Faces Several Lawsuits From Former OSDE Employees

There are now multiple lawsuits filed against State Superintendent Ryan Walters and Matt Langston, a state education department advisor.

Tuesday, May 30th 2023, 5:58 pm



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There are now multiple lawsuits filed against State Superintendent Ryan Walters and Matt Langston, a state education department advisor.

Lawyers for a former state employee at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, OSDE, said they will file a lawsuit over a violation of free speech. Two other former employees filed lawsuits today for “wrongful and retaliatory termination.”

We talked with Attorney Mark Hammons who is representing the two employees—Matthew Colwell and Cheryl McGee—filing for wrongful termination.

These lawsuits both stem from an email sent to OSDE employees from Matt Langston and Ryan Walters, threatening termination if they talk to members of the media. Langston later admitted that was a trap for whistleblowers in the department.

“This is so wrongful and so calculated,” Hammons said. “The lawsuits precipitated from the email Walters and Langston sent out threatening employees with termination if they communicated with members of the media.”

Both McGee and Colwell were fired within days of receiving the email from Langston and Walters.

“Here we have the department of education saying we don't want people to know what we're doing or why we’re doing it, we want a gag order, we want complete silence. Well, that is so far against what the department is supposed to stand for,” Hammons said.

McGee feared she would be terminated for sharing the email and sent in her resignation letter to OSDE. Hammons said that letter was denied, and McGee was terminated the following day.

“It's not enough that you're going to leave the department, lose your livelihood—we want to besmudge your character with a termination on it,” Hammons said. “So that indicated very clearly the evil intent with which this was done.”

According to the lawsuit, McGee’s termination letter stated she was fired due to “a breach of confidentiality by leaking internal agency emails to the media.”

“It's not done to serve the state, it's done to serve the egos of the defendants in this lawsuit,” Hammons said.

On the other hand, Colwell shared information with the Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office and a state representative. According to court documents, Colwell sent a “memorandum explaining that Walters' proposed teacher pay plan contravened the requirements of federal and state laws and could have the effect of costing the state of Oklahoma approximately $18,000.”

“He sent that email and got fired the next day,” Hammons said.

Hammons said some whistleblower cases can be difficult, but in this case they have a smoking gun.

"Rarely do we have the kind of admissions that are intent and motive that are critical to this kind of lawsuit that Ryan Walters has so gracefully given to us and that he'll hear about throughout the lawsuit,” Hammons said.

OSDE spokesperson, Justin Holcomb, initially told News 9, “OSDE does not comment on HR matters.” 

Holcomb sent an additional statement later.

“These legal claims are absurd, frivolous, and a waste of taxpayer time and money. It’s a political stunt with no legal merit,” Holcomb said in the email. 

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