OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Public Employees Association says its notified the Oklahoma State Department of Health that it intends to sue them on behalf of 161 people who were terminated in December 2017 and March 2018.

This course of action is in response to OSDH claiming it was $30 million short late last year, which resulted in asking for emergency appropriation and then laying off nearly 200 people.

Turns out, that money was never missing in the first place.

“These employees were terminated or forced to retire because health department officials claimed they had a $30 million budget shortfall but that claim was false. The premise used by the health department was wrong and their actions caused financial, mental and emotional hardship for those employees,” said Sterling Zearley, executive director Oklahoma Public Employees Association. “We’ve tried to work with the health department administration to fix this but they don’t seem interested in correcting it.”

OPEA’s attorney says the former employee have “certain legally-viable tort claims against OSDH stemming from the layoff.” The notice of claim was sent to OSDH on September 28, 2018.

“After 22 years of service, this was like losing a part of my family,” said Wendy Morton a former health department senior Records Consultant. “I received the call from my supervisor about being part of the reduction in force while at the radiologist with my 75-year old mother, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.” Morton said she provided financial management oversight and participated in internal financial audits of local county health departments.

A majority of other former employee have similar stories.

In May 2018, News 9 spoke with former nurse practitioner Theresa Nabors. She said, "I never ever dreamed that I would lose my job at the State Health Department. And be turned upside down, the way that I have been turned upside down.” 

OSDH has 90 days to respond to the lawsuit.