The Journal Record broke the story of Tate Publishing firing of 25 employees and released the leaked audio of the meeting in which Tate prayed with, insulted and threatened staff.
The Mustang-based publishing company was founded on Christian principles in 2001 by Richard and Rita Tate, Ryan Tate’s parents, and has around 200 employees.
Workers and Ryan Tate both said the strange meeting was in response to an anonymous company-wide email warning that Tate Publishing planned to fire most of its workers and send the jobs to offices in the Philippines.
During the now-infamous meeting, Tate pledged he would find the person responsible for the email, criticized the social-networking habits of employees, and attempted to quell rumors of the company’s financial instability.
“What I hope we’re going to do all over the entire globe will be in addition to what we do in Mustang,” Tate said. “You morons that sat back and wanted to create and generate conspiracy theories on the ‘what if’s or the potentials or ‘what could be happening’s are stupid.”
He added he was pursuing a $7.8 million lawsuit against five employees who previously had disclosed company information.
“If you want to turn anywhere and discuss what happens in this office, you’re going to get it. I have a good history and a good track record of catching you. I might not get you today, I might not get you tomorrow, but I’m going to get you,” Tate told the group.
“If I sue you for $7.8 million and you can’t pay it, you think it just goes away? No, no, no, no. I get to put liens on your houses, I get to put liens on your cars, I get to garnish your wages. Everything you do for the rest of your life is mine if I want it.”
Tate told employees that while Jesus was the perfect model of grace, mercy and justice, he had been showing too much mercy and grace, and not enough justice.
Tate said he responded to the “anonymous coward” who sent the email, and threatened to fire 10 people if the person failed to come forward prior to the meeting. He decided to up the number to 25, and concluded by telling the employees he loved them all and would be praying for them.
“There’s going to be a lot of innocent, good, hardworking people pay a price for this. I hate that. It tears me up. I’ve shed a lot of tears over this, but I will not stand for it, I will not accept it,” he said. “If you think it would be fun or entertaining to discuss these things outside of this office, do it. Do it. Because I will find you, too. I will get you, and you, too, will pay a price.”
In an interview with Oklahoma Gazette, Tate said the company has no plans to outsource the Oklahoma jobs or cut staff in-state, although it is expanding its operations overseas.
He said firing 25 staffers was difficult, but that he would do it again, and that other issues surrounded those who were terminated.
“I think a lot of people think one person maybe did this and a lot of people were punished for one individual,” Tate said. “That’s not correct.
There was a multitude of individuals involved.”
According to local labor-law attorneys, the fired employees probably have few options.
“Oklahoma is an ‘at will’ state, which means you can be fired for any reason ... any reason at all, so long as it’s not in one of 10 protected categories,” said Joshua Stockton, an attorney with Brown & Gould.
Most employees are considered “at will,” unless employers are contractually obligated to keep an employee for a certain amount of time, said Chris Thrutchley, an attorney with Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson.
“There are a number of exceptions ... though the general rule is an employee can be terminated for any reason,” he said.
Both attorneys said federal anti-discrimination laws arising from the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 are some of those exceptions that would allow an employee to claim wrongful termination.
The term “hostile work environment” only applies to cases involving one’s race, religion, gender or national origin, Stockton said.
“A lot of people think you can sue your employer, or Oklahoma protects you against a generalized hostile work environment,” he said. “That doesn’t exist. Some other states have it, but a hostile work environment or bullying law — we don’t have that.”
A 1989 state Supreme Court ruling provides recourse for discharged whistle-blowers who report violations of the law or workplace safety, or for employees who refuse to perjure themselves, Stockton said. Internal company conflicts over other issues do not rise to that level, he said.
“If they want to come in and fire 25 people, they can,” he said, “so long as [terminated employees] weren’t exposing wrongdoing.”