Tahlequah Daily Press

October 4, 2013

RWD employees claim wrongful firing

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Two former employees of Cherokee County Rural Water District No. 11 are seeking damages against the utility and the man who was chairman of its board in 2010, when the couple were fired.

Michael Gassaway, a former water manager for the rural water district, and his wife Patricia, a former clerk of the district, were both fired in 2010. Later that year, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation began probing missing money at the water district, and prosecutors formally charged Patricia Gassaway with embezzlement in November 2010.

Prosecutors alleged she took more than $10,000 from the water district, but District Judge Darrell Shepherd upheld a motion to dismiss the charges for insufficient evidence two months ago.

In a petition filed by the couple this week, the Gassaways allege they were wrongly terminated and defamed, and suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Gassaways allege they were fired in part for reporting the wrongdoing of other RWD staff members.

Michael Gassaway also claims he was discriminated against because he was over  age 40 and had been “perceived as disabled due to a recent heart attack.” He alleges the RWD board replaced him with someone under age 40.

The Gassaways’ petition also names Harold McMillen as a defendant. McMillen was chair of the board when the Gassaways lost their jobs.

Michael Gassaway believes McMillen made statements about him outside of board meetings or the environment of the job, and that McMillen knew the statements to be “untrue.” Michael Gassaway claims McMillen made the statements with the intention of damaging his reputation in the community as a person and businessman.

Patricia Gassaway said McMillen pursued criminal embezzlement charges against her “when he knew or should have known that the allegations were false because someone else in the office had access to the same accounts and had otherwise shown to be dishonest.” Her charge of defamation against McMillen alleges she suffered a great financial loss and damage to her reputation.

Together, the couple also claim the RWD 11 board of directors is breaching its fiduciary duty by continuing to employ a woman whom they claim was shown during criminal proceedings to have misappropriated district funding for her own use.

For each charge, the Gassaways are asking to receive the maximum amount of damages allowed by Oklahoma law.