FOX 25 Investigates: Is everything OK at agency promoting OK?
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) —
“Fishing is great,” John Chinn said with a smile. He’s proud of Grand Lake and knows the area well. These days, the lake is home, but for years it was also his work. “
“I loved my job,” Chinn said, “I loved working with the people that I dealt with; the campers.
Chinn spent nearly three decades as a park ranger with his last assignment was here at the Bernice Area at Grand Lake.
“I had actually received law enforcement officer of the year down here while I was here,” Chinn said proudly.
Years prior to landing in Bernice, Chinn had been injured on the job. It was his shoulder. He said the pain finally got bad enough to require surgery.
According to the court records, Chinn took federal medical leave, but needed more time for a full recovery. Chinn said he could have come back on light duty, but he had nearly 9 months of sick leave saved up after decades of work. Chinn said no one questioned him when he opted to take the sick leave he needed for a full recovery.
Chinn said he never expected what happened next.
“I got a notice from the department that I was considered excessive absenteeism and on suspension without pay until further decided what to do,” Chinn said.
Chinn said there was no warning, and the Merit Protection Commission even made note that Chinn had nothing but good evaluations on his record. “All that was a complete slap in the face to me that I just absolutely could not believe.”
Little did Chinn know at the time, but apparently there were conversations happening inside the state offices of the Department of Tourism and Recreation about his case.
“She would say things like ‘Well how old is he,’” a former human resources manager for the Tourism Department told FOX 25 about the conversation she had with members of upper level management about Chinn’s case.
The former manager asked FOX 25 to not show her face because she is retired from the agency. However she said she wants to speak out because of what she said she witnessed by the leadership of the department.
“They [employees] were retired under the threat of being fired,” the former manager told FOX 25, “I could call you at least 10 names I know.”
Ultimately there never was an offer to Chinn to retire and he was fired.
The former tourism manager told FOX 25 said she warned firing someone for taking their earned sick time wasn’t right.
“I always felt there as an agenda and it had nothing to do with the truth, it just didn't,” she said.
In Chinn’s case, he contested his termination, but he never even called a single witness for his defense. In the cross examination of the tourism's human resources director revealed his firing was not in line with state law. The commission ordered tourism to put Chinn back to work, and by this point he was fully healed and able to go back to full duty.
The commission also ordered tourism to pay his back pay for the time he lost due to fighting his firing. However, it would take multiple trips back to court before the department complied with the Merit Protection ruling.”
Once back at work, Chinn said he felt continued harassment from the state headquarters. He said he finally had enough and decided to retire from the job he loved.
“I decided it is not worth fighting life over,” Chinn said.
We asked the Department of Tourism to comment on this case and others they have lost at the merit protection commission but the agency said they do not comment on personnel actions.