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District illegally refused to rehire music teacher after military deployment, feds say

Department of Justice Seal (US Fish & Wildlife Service/

An Oklahoma school district is accused of illegally refusing to rehire a teacher after he returned from military deployment. Now the Department of Justice is suing.

On July 16, 2019, Michael J. McCullough began working for Oklahoma City Public Schools as a band teacher. He then became a member of the United States Air Force Reserve in June 2020, according to the lawsuit filed May 29.

McCullough was employed as a music teacher with the school district for the 2021-2022 school year. However, in February 2022, he received a non-continuance notice from the school.

So he reached out to Cindy Lang, the principal of Fillmore Elementary School, where he taught at the time, according to the lawsuit.

She responded in an email, saying she “didn’t know they were sending out the non continuing [sic] letters today,” according to court documents. “That’s just protocol. All teachers under two years get that. I’d like you to stay if you are happy.’”

After receiving this email, McCullough believed he would continue his employment through the 2022-2023 school year.

A day later, he received orders for military service beginning Feb. 14, the lawsuit said.

McCullough notified school officials that he would have to take a leave of absence to fulfill his military duties. Then, he received an email from Lang.

“I’m trying to wrap my mind around this and I’m very concerned. So I’m paying you all year and have to have a sub? It would make it so much easier to fill this with a music teacher if you resign. But this is your choice,” the email said, according to the lawsuit.

Then, on March 10, McCullough received a letter from the school, saying his contract would not be renewed.

Oklahoma City Public Schools told McClatchy News in a statement that it was “made aware of the lawsuit” and is reviewing it.

“The district will work through the legal process accordingly,” the statement read. “We cannot provide any further comment at this time.”

Still, on April 25, McCullough notified school officials that he intended to return to his employment for the 2022-2023 school year, the court document said. On July 29, he informed school officials that his military duties were extended until Dec. 30, and that he would be able to return to his employment after Christmas break.

School officials responded to him, saying, “Thank you for sending this information, however, your employment with OKCPS ended on July 15, 2022, at the end of your 2021-2022 contract,” the lawsuit said.

In December, McCullough reached out again after seeing a job posting for a band teacher position at a middle school. McCullough was interviewed for the position, according to the lawsuit, but the school hired someone else.

McCullough once again requested to be reinstated to his former teaching position, to which school officials responded, saying, “Since you are not currently employed with OKCPS, you must apply for open positions and follow the normal recruitment process,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the school’s refusal to reinstate McCullough was a direct violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which “protects the rights of uniformed service members to reemployment in their civilian employment following absences due to military service obligations,” according to a May 29 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma.

“Service members are called to leave their home and work to serve and protect us,” U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester for the Western District of Oklahoma said in the release. “It is our job to make sure their employment rights are protected once they return home. My office will continue to vigorously defend the rights justly earned by those who serve our country.”

The lawsuit is asking for an amount equal to McCullough’s lost wages, as well as further relief.


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