The CEO of Paycom threatened he was “coming after the OCPA” in 2017, which was prior to Paycom filing a lawsuit targeting the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs that a court found was meritless—a lawsuit dismissed under a law designed to protect free speech.
The statement by Paycom CEO Chad Richison became public in court filings related to the sanctions hearing now facing Paycom for filing a meritless lawsuit dismissed under the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act, an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law designed to protect free speech. Under that law, individuals or entities found to have filed lawsuits to stymie free speech face sanctions that must be sufficiently large to deter the filing of similar lawsuits by the plaintiff in the future.
In 2017, state lawmakers were considering major tax increases in the midst of a state economic downturn driven by low oil prices. OCPA Board Chairman Larry Parman—joined by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a former OCPA board member, and former Gov. Frank Keating, who was then also a member of OCPA’s board—wrote a public letter urging lawmakers to instead bring spending in line with revenue and warning that additional tax increases could harm many working families.
In their letter, Parman, Coburn and Keating wrote that Oklahomans “are hurting—due in large part to the significant price declines in oil and to the failures of the Obama administration’s economic policies and regulations.”
Oklahoma Tax Commission reports showed that Oklahomans lost more than $13 billion in taxable income from 2014 to 2015 and families had reduced purchases subject to state sales and use tax by $4.1 billion from state budget year 2015 to 2016. From September 2015 to September 2016, roughly 21,800 oil and gas and manufacturing jobs had been eliminated in Oklahoma.
In a disclosed Oct. 18, 2017 email reporting to the OCPA board of trustees Richison’s intentions for OCPA, Parman revealed he was soon contacted by Richison after OCPA’s public stance on limiting tax increases. At that time, Parman also served on Paycom’s board of directors and had been in that position for roughly 18 months.
“Last week he called me to get OCPA to ‘back off, or we’re coming after the OCPA,’” Parman wrote to other members of OCPA’s board.
Parman also shared a text message he had received from Richison that declared, “The ocpa is in direct conflict with Paycom.”
Parman subsequently resigned from Paycom’s board.
In 2020, Paycom sued OCPA claiming defamation and tortious interference occurred when an OCPA article briefly mentioned Richison’s advocacy for broader business closures and government control of how people and businesses operate, including how they buy groceries, in response to the spread of COVID-19. In dismissing the case with prejudice, the court ruled that Paycom’s “claims against OCPA relate to or are in response to the OCPA’s exercise of the right to free speech.” The court deemed the lawsuit meritless and ruled there was an “absence of any evidence of actual malice by OCPA.”
Richison has waded into other public-policy debates with significant impact on Oklahomans’ free-speech rights.
In March 2020, Richison wrote a public letter to the University of Oklahoma’s board of regents, declaring that the university’s “previous diversity training efforts failed because they assured free speech protection.”
On November 27, 2017, Richison sent a letter to the University of Oklahoma’s Board of Regents, calling on Keating to resign in light of his involvement with OCPA and “its political minions”.
In this letter, Richison described OCPA as “those who work against our future with constant negative rhetoric and no workable solutions,” accused OCPA of preferring to “create problems [rather] than solve them so it can raise money to fund its reckless, outdated and out-of-step political machine,” and labeled OCPA’s “true intent: to undermine any attempt to govern.” Finally, Richison stated, “[i]n my view, OCPA is out to destroy OU and our entire higher education system.”
In January 2018, Richison continued to campaign for Keating’s resignation from the OU Board of Regents. Richison emailed Keating about this effort stating, “No one person has done more to hurt Oklahoma’s innovation and ability to climb than you and your cronies at the OCPA … Because of this, we will be relentless in our efforts to unseed you from any position of influence on young people’s education.”
In making its case for sufficient sanctions against Paycom, to deter Paycom from filing similar lawsuits to deter free speech, OCPA has requested the opportunity to depose Richison. Paycom continues to fight in court to prevent Richison from being placed under oath and is continuing pursuit of its meritless lawsuit.