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Ex-employee sues NW for discrimination, illegal actions, hiding mold

[ 2 ] April 26, 2017 |

Chairman Mel Dainty and former Administrative Assistant Debra Cooper

Update: Here is a copy of Cooper’s court filing and subsequent court actions

cooper petition edited
cooper motion for hearing
cooper order for hearing

©2017 Oologah Lake Leader LLC

Former administrative assistant Debra Cooper on Wednesday, May 2, sued the Northwest Rogers County Fire District, its chief, chairman and union for over $85,000 in actual damages and unspecified punitive damages.

Cooper, who as administrative assistant handled everything from payroll and office management duties to serving as board minute clerk, was fired Feb. 13.

In her Rogers County District Court lawsuit she contends that the firing and actions both before and after it involved criminal violations of the Open Meetings act, gender discrimination, attempting to hide mold contamination from the public that has since forced the closure of all three Northwest stations, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, malicious interference with her rights, and multiple violation of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Besides the district, which covers over 200 square miles of Rogers County, she named as defendants Chief Mat Shockley and Board Chair Mel Dainty (both as individuals) and Northwest Professional Firefighters Local No. 4057.

She contends that she was unlawfully fired during an executive session and ordered to leave the building where a public board meeting was in progress before the board reconvened and took the public vote required by law before a public body can take any action.

The 66-page lawsuit notes that in ordering her to leave the meeting, she was unable to hear the chairman’s statement alleging the reasons for her firing and also denied the right to learn details about the mold problem.

In addition, her rights as a citizen and a resident of the fire district under the Open Meeting Act were violated when the meeting was closed to her.

She alleged that was a criminal violation of the law which also automatically voiding her termination.

The mold problem was discussed under an item reading “Discussion and possible action on air quality test for all three stations,” but as the Leader reported then the item was actually a detailed report on tests that had already been conducted and included a presentation with multiple clear test packets displayed to the board showing that all three stations were contaminated in multiple ways with dangerous mold.

She said in the lawsuit that she had asked twice for and been refused a copy of the meeting agenda before she left work the last business day before the meeting, even though part of her job was counter-signing and posting the agenda, so she had no constructive advance notice that her potential termination or the mold issue would be discussed.

Prior to February, she said she “had been exposed to mold” in the office area of the station, had suffered medical injuries including serious breathing disorders due to the mold and had informed her supervisors of that, but still was asked to leave the meeting before mold “was discussed and indeed confirmed that the building used by NW Fire District was contaminated with mold and Plaintiff’s unlawful removal deprived the public of critical information.”

She accused the union of unlawful interference with her employment by filing a grievance when she was granted a retirement benefit enjoyed by all other employees.

“Local 4057 would like (it) rescinded,” said a letter on Union stationery signed by President James Pippin, or that a raise equal to her retirement be given to each union member. The letterhead has no contact number or email for the union or its president, only for the main fire station, and he could not be located for comment.

Cooper is seeking actual and punitive damages against the union in excess of $10,000 each for its “malicious” actions.

In the gender discrimination action, she notes that she was one of only two female employees of the district and the only female without retirement benefits. She also noted that a male employee was fired for embezzlement but only after a progressive discipline policy was followed while she was fired without warning, and another male fired for damaging equipment the same night she was but his unemployment benefits were not challenged while hers were.

She accused Dainty and Shockley of offering different reasons for her termination than what was stated in the meeting, and that ordering her to leave before she could hear the publicly-stated reasons or have a chance to respond created the appearance and inference of criminal conduct by the Plaintiff (although, ironically Defendants committed a crime by violating the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act).”

In seeking over $75,000 in actual damages and unspecified punitive damages, she contended Shockley and Dainty “engaged in outrageous conduct,” and “acted with reckless disregard of the rights of the Plaintiff, and acted intentionally with malice,” and “acted with the intention of inflicting, and in fact did inflict emotional distress” on her.

The lawsuits includes a number of other allegations and besides money damages also seeks Cooper’s reinstatement, that her termination be voided, and an injunction be issued to prevent further violations against her.

The termination and injunction issues both involve the alleged violations of the Open Meeting Act, and Presiding District Judge Sheila Condren has set a hearing on those issues for 1:30 p.m. June 14 in the Division 1 courtroom at the Rogers County Courthouse in Claremore.

Both Shockley and Dainty were provided with emails which included a copy of the entire lawsuit, and messages were left for both asking for comment.

Shockley sent a brief text saying he was not immediately available to make or receive a telephone call. Dainty did not immediately reply to the email or phone message.


Category: News

Comments (2)

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  1. Kelly says:

    If I remember correctly, weren’t these same people sued before for harassing an employee??
    So they could do it again ???

    • Leader says:

      Linda S. Ervin filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in Rogers County District Court June 18, 2009 (CJ-2009-475) against the district and its former chief, David Puckett, alleging a pattern of sexual and racial harassment and misconduct against her because of her gender and Native American heritage. It was removed to federal court (4:09-cv-468, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa) by the fire district and Puckett, where it was settled in late 2010 after preparations for a jury trial were nearing completion. Terms of the settlement were never made public. The two individuals and the union, named in the Cooper lawsuit, were not named as defendants in the Ervin case.