MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 2, 2012

Sequoyah firings lead to lawsuit

Cherokee ex-chief handling case against tribe

— Former Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit despite dismissals of all of his previous wrongful termination lawsuits against the Cherokee Nation.

The lawsuit, in which Smith is representing three former Sequoyah School administrators, names Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskins Sr. and Executive Director of Education Neil Morton as defendants.

Geary Don Crofford, Teresia Knott and Louie Jackson, the former employees, allege the defendants denied pre-termination due process, breached their employment agreements and perpetuated fraud on them by “promoting a subterfuge referred to as ‘reorganization’ to terminate their employment and terminating them without authority.”

In response, CN Director of Communications Amanda Clinton said, “We have faith in the Cherokee Nation’s courts and are confident they will find this case without merit.”

Crofford, who was the dean of academics for Sequoyah Schools, said he received his notice of termination in June 2012, following the November 2011 election of principal chief.

Crofford said he was told his termination was due to reorganization of his department, resulting in his and two other terminations and the creation of a principal position and an athletic director position.

“What they did was fire the top four administrators and replace them with someone new — same job functions, different titles,” he said.

But Crofford alleges the changes were made not to reorganize, but to create room for people of Baker’s choice.

“They were making room for certain people,” he said. “The new principal was a Baker supporter.”

Crofford and the other two plaintiffs have asked for reinstatement of employment, general damages, special damages and punitive damages, according to court documents.

Crofford said his termination cost him a big difference in salary.

“I’m a teacher at Woodall Schools now,” he said. “And that was definitely a huge change.”

Crofford said he also applied for other positions with the Cherokee Nation after his termination and was given the “runaround.”

Smith said that of the several lawsuits for wrongful termination he has filed on behalf of former Cherokee Nation employees, only two lawsuits remain active, including the suit on behalf of Crofford, Knott and Jackson.

In January, Smith filed a suit on behalf of Felicia Olaya, Rachel McAlvain, Paula Ragsdale, Sammye Rusco and Tamsye Dreadfulwater.

That suit was dismissed earlier this year but is now in the appeals process, Smith said.

“I have had five cases kicked out of the Employee Appeal Board because of jurisdiction,” he said. “Four were remanded for hearings by the Supreme Court, and all four were dismissed again by a 2-1 vote by the EAB and are on appeal again.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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