The Oklahoma Public Employees Association prevailed in district court Friday in an action to preserve the rights of employees at the Tourism and Recreation Department.

Judge Bryan C. Dixon ordered the agency to follow statute.

"OPEA worked with lawmakers in 2006 to ensure that Tourism employees receive the state severance package when parks and lodges are closed," said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.

Title 74 Okla. Stat. 2242.1 (2006) states: "Further, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department is hereby directed to develop a severance package for all employees of the Department affected by the closure of any state lodge or park facility owned by the Department."

Due to state budget issues, the agency targeted seven parks for closure in August. Workers at the parks slated for closure were told by the agency to report for duty at other parks. While some employees wanted to take the positions and remain with the agency, the proposed locations would put undue hardship on several workers because of increased commuting expense.

OPEA contends that the agency should comply with the "State Government Reduction-in-Force and Severance Benefit Act" and Title 74 Okla. Stat. 2242.1. The statutes protect the rights of affected employees when facilities are being closed and positions abolished.

"OPEA worked to pass the severance statute over 15 years ago to ensure state employees' rights are preserved during downsizing and closures," said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. "OPEA has worked with employees over the years during the challenging times of facility closures and downsizing. The severance law preserves the rights of employees and ensures everyone is treated fairly. We filed for a temporary injunction to ensure that the agency complies with the law and provides employees with their statutory rights."

Kevin Donelson and Regina Marsh of Fellers, Snider, Blankenship, Bailey and Tippens are representing OPEA in this action.