Oklahoma Department of Human Services ordered to pay fired worker $244,694

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.
BY RANDY ELLIS rellis@opubco.com Published: April 5, 2012

Law, policy violated

Wilson, the supervisor, violated state law and DHS policy by failing to follow progressive discipline procedures and failing to solicit information about mitigating circumstances, the judge wrote.

DHS officials attempted to justify their actions by issuing a reprimand dated Nov. 27, 2007, that cited incidents that allegedly occurred earlier that month and in June 2008.

The judge described the attempt to discipline Watson the day before she was given her notice of suspension “nothing more than a poorly plotted ruse.”

The judge called the actions taken against Watson “irresponsible and hurtful” and said Watson suffered “an enormous psychological toll.”

He awarded Watson $94,694.30 for actual damages and $150,000 for pain and suffering, for a combined total of $244,694.30.

Watson told The Oklahoman she believes she was targeted for discipline because she speaks her mind and had testified contrary to the way supervisors wanted her to in a case where two children had been removed from a home where a meth lab had been operating.

Watson said her supervisors wanted her to recommend placement of the children in the guardianship of their grandmother, because their goal was to reduce the number of children in state custody.

“I said ‘no,'” Watson said. “The grandmother had not been truthful with us and the grandfather had a felony.” Also, the grandmother's home was right next to the home with the meth lab, she said.

“You can't tell me she didn't know about it,” Watson said. “She didn't protect her grandchildren in the first place.”

Watson said the prosecutor agreed with her and the judge followed their advice.

DHS officials reacted by ordering a massive audit of the county office, she said. The complaint and disciplinary action came later.

Watson said she worked about 15 years in child welfare. She worked about 12 years before she was fired and about three more after she was reinstated by the merit protection court, she said.

Watson resigned after the recent trial and said she plans to go back to school and eventually open a counseling service.

Wilson retired earlier this year, Powell said.