By Traci Chapman
While the federal case seven former employees brought against the county children’s justice center remains in limbo, a second civil lawsuit filed in Canadian County involves claims of negligence, conspiracy and other allegations by center and county officials.
The two lawsuits center around the management and alleged incidents at Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center. Named defendants are Associate District Judge Bob Hughey, former center director Daniel Kern, current director Melanie Johnson, human resources director Nacole Majors, assistant CCCJC director Cedric Mills and the Board of Canadian County Commissioners.
Seven former staff members – Ronda Moss, Melissa McClain, Erin Barton, Cassie Goodfellow, Donna Wehmuller, Paul Hardaway and Robert Fletcher – are parties to the original case. That federal wrongful termination lawsuit began in Canadian County District Court in December 2020 and was removed by the defendants to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in February.
The new case, filed June 20, is comprised of six causes of action asserted by five of the seven original plaintiffs – McClain, Barton, Goodfellow, Wehmuller and Hardaway.
DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION ALLEGATIONS
The former employees claim a hostile work environment led to exacerbation of some employees’ known disabilities – namely, those suffered by Barton and McClain. Those women, plaintiffs contend in their lawsuit, were not granted required protection under federal and state law for known disabilities – and were allegedly harassed when they requested accommodation and/or to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA.
According to the petition, both Barton and McClain eventually did take FMLA leave as a result of being targeted by CCCJC officials, they said – only to be told by officials upon their return that their original positions were not protected or available and that they could work in the center’s kitchen. Two of the six causes of action listed in the lawsuit were dedicated to those allegations.
EEOC RETALIATION CLAIMS
All five plaintiffs contend in their complaint that center officials retaliated against them when they filed claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after they attempted to resolve the issues with Hughey, Majors and Johnson at CCCJC, as well alleged communications with county commissioners.
In response to subsequent EEOC claims filed by each of the plaintiffs – and also Moss and Fletcher – center officials allegedly engaged in a retaliation campaign against them, the former employees contend.
NEGLIGENCE CAUSE OF ACTION
The plaintiffs contend that due to actions taken – and, perhaps more specifically, not taken to protect them – during their employment, Hughey, Kern, Majors, Johnson and Mills should be held personally liable for any damages awarded in their lawsuit. They also cited a pattern of behavior they alleged took place once someone lodged any type of complaint, formal or informal, as well as practices that allowed incidents they contend occurred to continue.
“The CCCJC has failed to implement a (sic) proper hiring, training and supervision protocols to ensure this behavior does not happen,” plaintiffs stated in their complaint, in regard to behavior they attributed to Kern while he was center director.
Barton and McClain specifically claim “the ongoing behavior…and culture of behavior perpetuated by Canadian County” deprived them of their constitutional rights and caused them to lose pay and benefits, as well as suffer mental anguish.
The actions the former employees contend Hughey, Mills, Johnson and Majors undertook in relation to their employment was part of a coordinated effort that rose to the level of a conspiracy.
“Each of the individual defendants engaged in a civil conspiracy which operated to deprive plaintiffs of certain rights and liberties,” they stated in their complaint.
The Canadian County June lawsuit has had no new developments since the initial filing. There has been no action in the federal case since the parties exchanged motions concerning dismissal motions filed by the defendants – Associate Judge Bob Hughey; former center director Daniel Kern; current director Melanie Johnson; assistant CCCJC director Cedric Mills; Nacole Majors, center human resources director; and the Board of County Commissioners. The last of those motions were June 24 replies filed by the defendants.