An Oklahoma City federal jury rejected age-discrimination claims Friday from eight former Oklahoma County road crew workers who said they were fired because they were older than 40.
The five-woman, three-man jury took about three hours — which included an hour for lunch — before they returned a verdict in favor of the Board of County Commissioners and against the former District 2 workers.
Seven of the eight sought back pay from the time they were fired four years ago, which totaled more than $942,000 altogether. All eight sought an unlimited amount of money for pain and suffering. If the former workers had been successful, the money would have come from an increase in Oklahoma County property taxes over a three-year-period; jurors weren't told that.
The eight were mum as they absorbed the jurors' decision.
“I won't have no comment,” said Cyrus Smith, of Newalla, a former truck driver.
District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan denied their allegations and said the eight were among 16 road workers who were disciplined for misuse of county property.
Eight employees were fired, five took retirement, two were demoted and one was suspended. Maughan said those employees eligible for retirement were given the choice to retire or be fired.
He denied allegations from some of his eight former employees who filed the federal lawsuit that he had suggested they retire or that they were too old to work for the county.
Maughan said he decided to keep all employees after he met with them shortly after he took office in January 2009, although he had the authority to fire any of them, and wasn't looking for a way eight months later to get rid of them.
“I felt convicted to fight this all the way and I feel totally vindicated,” he said. “I believe what had been happening for however long was wrong and as soon as I found out about it and received the final report from the sheriff's investigation I knew these were the decisions I had to make. I still feel that I 100 percent made the right decision.”
Maughan said he became aware in August 2009 that some of his road crew were working on each others' properties during county time with county resources. He said someone called to complain that District 2 trucks were damaging a private road in Lincoln County.
Maughan said he discovered that road crew members were dumping county dirt and debris onto their co-workers' property. Most of the illegal activity occurred on multiple properties in Oklahoma County, but county material also was delivered to private property in Lincoln, Cleveland and Pottawatomie counties.
The former workers testified during the five-day trial that they were ordered to haul the dirt there by the district's superintendent and assistant superintendent and that they did not know what they were doing was illegal.
Smith, who worked 17 years for Oklahoma County, said he didn't know the county boundaries and that he was dumping Oklahoma County material onto private land in Lincoln County.
You can't build roads out of junk dirt.”
a former truck driver