Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to consider whether Appellant Kaye Beach sufficiently established that her "religiously motivated practice has been substantially burdened," because she was required to submit to a high-resolution facial photograph to renew her drivers license, despite her belief that doing so violated her religion. Appellant renewed her drivers license at least two to three times under the new system. Appellant stated she was first aware of changes to the system in 2004, when she was required to submit a fingerprint for a renewal. Appellant contended her sincerely held religious beliefs forbade her from participating in a global-numbering identification system, using the number of man, and eternally condemned her for participating in any such system. Appellant believed that the Department's system took measurements off facial points, from the biometric photo, to determine a number that is specific to her, for use with facial recognition technology. Appellant believed the resulting number was the "number of a man" referred to in Revelation 13:16-18 thus Appellant objects to the measurements of her body being used to identify her. Appellant states that the government intended to use the biometric photo to tie our bodies to our ability to buy and sell in order to permit or deny access to goods, services, places, and things needed to live. The Court of Civil Appeals held in her favor. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found that Appellant failed to produce any evidence from which one could reasonably conclude, or infer, that Department substantially burdened the free exercise of her articulated religious beliefs. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. View "Beach v. Oklahoma Dept. of Pub. Safety" on Justia Law

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Drew Bowers (Ward) sustained a traumatic brain injury in 1981. As a result of the injury, he required 24-hour care. His mother, Patricia Bowers Edwards (Guardian) was appointed guardian of her son's person and property in 2004. As guardian, she was responsible for hiring approximately ten caretakers for Drew in his private residence. Two of the ten caretakers contracted to provide services for Drew were domestic workers, Deborah Sizemore and Brad Garrett. In 2013, Sizemore filed a "charge of discrimination" pursuant to the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act, with the Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, claiming that her hours were dramatically reduced when she told the guardian she suffered from narcolepsy. Sizemore also claimed that she was sexually harassed at work by a male co-worker. She identified co-worker Garrett as a supporting witness in her complaint. The Guardian terminated the employment of both Sizemore and Garrett when she received the complaint from the Attorney General. The Guardian admitted she discharged Sizemore and Garrett from employment because the complaint was "the straw that broke the camel's back." Guardian moved for summary judgment arguing that Drew was the actual employer and that under section 1301 of the Act, a natural person did not meet the definition of "employer." Guardian further argued that under section 1302(B) of the Act, the prohibition of discriminatory practices did not apply to " . . .employment in the domestic service of the employer." The trial court denied Guardian's motion for summary judgment and Guardian brought this original action asserting immunity under the Act. Finding that indeed, Guardian was immune from suit under the Act, and that the trial court erred by not dismissing this case, the Supreme Court remanded the matter for the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the case. View "Edwards v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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According to appellant Robert Perry, he and his friends attended the Norman Music Festival in 2013. At approximately 2:00 a.m. on the early morning of April 27, 2013, Perry and his friends left the Festival on bicycles to go home. On the way home, a Norman police officer, also on a bicycle, approached Perry's friends. The officer began issuing citations to Perry's friends for running a stop sign on their bicycles. The officer also asked Perry if he was interfering with the traffic stop. Perry responded that he was just waiting for his friends so they could continue home. The officer then rapidly approached Perry and threw his arm, with nightstick in hand, around Perry's throat and placed him in a choke hold with extreme force to his neck. Perry, frightened, began fighting for air and struggled to get out of the choke hold in order to breathe. As more police officers arrived at the scene, they slammed Perry over onto his stomach with several officers' knees and elbows pressed into his back and limbs, forcing him to the ground. Perry had committed no crime and was not resisting arrest. While on the ground, an officer grabbed Perry's arm and violently and quickly twisted it back causing the bone behind his elbow to sustain a large fracture. Perry eventually became unconscious from the shock of the fracture and the lack of air due to the choke hold. The City successfully moved to dismiss the case, and Perry appealed. Perry argued that the Supreme Court's holding in "Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority,"305 P.3d 994, applied to this case and the trial court erred in dismissing his lawsuit. The City argued that "Bosh" did not apply because Perry had a remedy available pursuant to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (OGTCA). "The OGTCA cannot be construed as immunizing the state completely from all liability for violations of the constitutional rights of its citizens. To do so, would not only fail to conform to established precedent which refused to construe the OGTCA as providing blanket immunity, but would also render the Constitutional protections afforded the citizens of this State as ineffective." However, the Supreme Court held that under Bosh, claims for excessive force against a municipality may not be brought against a governmental entity when a cause of action under the OGTCA is available. Because appellant did not seek relief for his injuries under the OGTCA, the trial court did not err in dismissing his case. View "Perry v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

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Employee Chester Rouse filed a wrongful termination suit against the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) and Daniel S. Sullivan. The petition alleged GRDA and Mr. Sullivan terminated him in retaliation for filing an overtime complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Rouse also alleged the termination of his employment for filing this complaint violated Oklahoma public policy protecting whistleblowers who make external reports of unlawful activity by their employers. The trial court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, ruling: (1) sovereign immunity barred Rouse's claim based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act; and (2) the Oklahoma Whistleblower Act provided employee's remedy for the alleged wrongful termination, not state tort law. Rouse appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court held that the trial court correctly ruled that Rouse failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and properly dismissed this suit. View "Rouse v. Grand River Dam Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer alleging the employer violated both federal law and the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (OADA) in terminating her employment. Specifically, she alleged her employer discriminated against her on the basis of her age and gender. Anticipating employer's defense that section 1350 of the OADA limited damages for discrimination claims, plaintiff alleged the damage limitations in the OADA were unconstitutional under Oklahoma's prohibition against special laws. Citing the lack of Oklahoma precedent on this issue, the district court certified the question of whether the damage provisions in section 1350 of the OADA are unconstitutional under Article V, sections 46 and 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the high court held that the damage provisions in section 1350 were not unconstitutional. View "MacDonald v. Corporate Integris Health" on Justia Law

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Registered Voter Delilah Gentges sued the Oklahoma State Election Board in the district court of Tulsa County to prevent implementation of SB 692, commonly known as the Voter ID Act. Gentges alleged she had standing as a taxpayer and as a registered voter in Tulsa County. The State Election Board specially appeared in the district court of Tulsa County and asked the court to dismiss this suit. The State Election Board contended Gentges lacked standing and Tulsa County was not the proper venue for a suit against a State agency. The district court of Tulsa County rejected these challenges and the State Election Board asked the Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction to prohibit the district court of Tulsa County from proceeding further. The Supreme Court granted partial relief by ordering the district court of Tulsa County to transfer the case to the district court of Oklahoma County. Gentges contended the Legislature violated the Oklahoma Constitution by submitting the Voter ID Act to a popular vote without first presenting it to the Governor for veto consideration. She also contended that requiring voters to present certain forms of identification in order to vote would "interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage." After review of the parties' summary judgment paperwork, the trial court ruled: (1) the Oklahoma Constitution does not require presentment of a legislative referendum to the Governor before the referendum is placed on the ballot for a vote; and (2) Gentges lacked standing. Gentges appealed. The Supreme Court concluded after its review that the trial court was correct in ruling the Voter ID Act was validly enacted, but reversed the trial court on the issue of Gentges' standing. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Gentges v. Oklahoma State Election Board" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmate Sonny Lauren Harmon brought an action against three employees of the John Lilley Correctional Center, Paul Cradduck, Warden Glynn Booher, and Alice Turner, following the seizure and alleged conversion of a gold wedding ring. The District Court of Oklahoma County entered summary judgment on behalf of each defendant. Harmon appealed the decision. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review whether summary judgment was supported by the record. After reviewing the record, the Court found that the settled-law-of-the-case-doctrine precluded reconsideration of Harmon's compliance with administrative exhaustion requirements, and it was error to hold otherwise. In addition, the existence of a factual dispute mandated the Court's reversal of summary judgment in favor of defendant Paul Cradduck on Harmon's conversion claim. However, the Court concluded the district court properly awarded summary judgment to each of the defendants for any claim brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Further, any claims based on the purported tortious conduct of Booher and Turner were properly disposed of by the trial judge and COCA.View "Harmon v. Cradduck" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma certified questions of Oklahoma Law to the Supreme Court: (1) does the Okla. Const. art. 2, section 30 provide a private cause of action for excessive force, notwithstanding the limitations of the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act?; (2) if such a right exists, is the cause of action recognized retrospectively? and (3) are the standards of municipal liability coterminous with a Federal section 1983 action or does the common law theory of respondeat superior apply to such action? The questions in this case arose from an altercation at the Cherokee County Detention Center (a facility operated by the Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority) whereby plaintiff Daniel Bosh was attacked while he was standing at the booking desk of the Detention Center with his hands secured in restraints behind his back. Video surveillance of the events captured images of one of the jailers, defendant Gordon Chronister, Jr., approaching the plaintiff and grabbing him behind his back. Plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of the altercation. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in state court against the Authority, the assistant jail administrator and the jailers who initiated the attack. He asserted federal Civil Rights claims against the individuals and state law claims against the Authority. The Authority removed the case to the United States District Court then filed a motion to dismiss the state tort claims based on exemptions from liability provided by Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (the OGTCA). Upon review, the Supreme Court answered the questions: (1) the Okla. Const. art 2, section 30 provides a private cause of action for excessive force, notwithstanding the limitations of the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act; (2) the action is recognized retrospectively; and (3) the common law theory of respondeat superior applies to municipal liability under such an action. View "Bosh v. Cherokee County Bldg. Authority." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant, Mary Roshawn Jones was a full-time classified employee of Defendant-Appellee Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA), working at the L.E. Rader Center (Center). Plaintiff was bitten by a spider while at work. She sought medical treatment for the spider bite at the Center. A Center nurse informed Plaintiff she would have to seek a drug test in connection with its "Review of Job-Related Accidental Injury or Illness." The OJA alleged that they repeatedly tried to get Plaintiff to complete paperwork relating to her injury. The OJA also alleged that Plaintiff's delay in completing the paperwork resulted in the delay in requesting the drug test. Plaintiff alleged that the reason for the required drug test was a series of harassing and threatening calls to the Center by a former boyfriend. Plaintiff was ultimately discharged. She filed no administrative appeal from the discharge but filed a civil case, seeking compensatory and punitive damages and lost wages, or in the alternative, restoration to employment. The issue of first impression before the Supreme Court was whether the provisions of the Oklahoma Standards for Drug and Alcohol Testing Act (SWDATA) permitted a classified state employee to file an action in district court prior to the exhaustion of administrative remedies. Upon review, the Court held that SWDATA provides an independent cause of action which authorizes a classified state employee to file an action in the district court for a willful violation of the act without first exhausting the employee's administrative remedies. View "Jones v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Camran Durham appealed a grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant McDonaldâs Restaurants of Oklahoma, Inc. Plaintiff alleged that his supervising manager denied his three requests to take prescription anti-seizure medication, and called plaintiff a âf***ing retard.â Plaintiff stated he was sixteen years old at the time, and that the managerâs refusals caused him to fear he would suffer a seizure. Plaintiff sued for âintentional infliction of emotional distress.â Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the managerâs conduct did not rise to the level of âextreme and outrageousâ conduct in order for Plaintiff to succeed on his claim. The trial court agreed, and ruled in favor of Defendant. The appellate court reversed the trial court, holding that there was a âsubstantial controversyâ on whether conduct like the managerâs and Plaintiffâs subsequent reaction was âextreme emotional distress.â Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court. The Court found that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment to Defendant, and remanded the case for further proceedings.