ATOKA — A judge has ordered DHS to pay a former Atoka County child welfare worker $244,694 — ruling the agency wrongfully fired her based on the results of a slipshod internal investigation.
“DHS had a legal obligation to ensure that they properly and lawfully assessed whether or not they had just cause to terminate the employment,” District Judge Mark Campbell wrote in his March 27 order. “DHS woefully failed to do so.”
Annette Watson, 48, of Atoka, told The Oklahoman Wednesday that she feels vindicated by the verdict in the nonjury trial.
“It feels very rewarding to have not just one, but two judges who were able to see through what they do and restore my reputation,” Watson said, referring to the recent ruling by Campbell, as well as a 2008 ruling in her earlier Merit Protection Commission case by administrative law judge P.K. Floyd.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services plans to appeal the verdict against DHS and former supervisor William Wilson Jr., said Sheree Powell, DHS spokeswoman.
“The agency just recently received the ruling in this lawsuit,” Powell said. “After reviewing the order, our attorneys respectfully disagree with the judge's findings and conclusions and plan to appeal the order to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.”
Watson was represented in the case by Oklahoma City attorney Daniel Gamino. She was fired Dec. 18, 2007, based on allegations of misconduct, unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, insubordination and misuse of state property or equipment, records show.
The allegations stemmed from a complaint a DHS supervisor received that Watson had violated confidentiality laws. Watson was accused of revealing the identity of a person who had reported possible child abuse to the child's mother.
Wilson, former DHS Area IV supervisor, elected to terminate Watson without first interviewing Watson to get her side of the story, without interviewing the woman to whom she had supposedly leaked confidential information, and without interviewing the woman who filed the possible child abuse complaint, the judge wrote.
Watson and the child's mother both strongly denied that Watson had disclosed the identity of the complaining party, the judge noted.
“There was absolutely nothing to suggest” a confidentiality breach really occurred, the judge said in his order.