In 2013, Peggy Walton, a former State Land Office Division Director in the Commercial Resources Division, sued then State Land Commissioner, Ray Powell, on a number of legal theories arising out of her separation from the office in June 2011. For background, see Peggy Walton v. Ray Powell, 821 F.3d 1204 (10th Cir. 2016). Ms. Walton served in a similar capacity from 2006 through 2010 while former Republican Commissioner Patrick Lyons was in office. After Mr. Powell was elected State Land Commissioner in November 2010, he assumed office in January 2011. He was immediately faced with a budget appropriation which reduced the operating revenue by over $600,000.00 in his agency and further required the reduction in force of two full-time employees. Ms. Walton’s position was selected for the reduction in force. Claiming that she was discriminated against due to her political association (she is a registered Republican) with the Patrick Lyons’ administration by the Democrat Mr. Powell, she pursued theories of First Amendment discriminatory retaliation on the basis of political association. Several other theories, including those under the Whistleblower Protection Act and Title VII claims on the basis of gender and national origin discrimination, were dismissed on motion. The First Amendment political association claim was tried to a nine-person jury before the Honorable James O. Browning from November 14-18, 2016. The jury returned a verdict for the defense, exonerating former Commissioner Powell on all theories.
Trying the case for the defense was Scott P. Hatcher, Esq. and Emma D.B. Weber, Esq. Plaintiff counsel was Jack Hardwick, Esq.