Culture & the Family

As Paycom fights court sanctions, company splurges on arena naming rights

July 27, 2021


Contact: Sheridan Betts
Phone: 405-496-6115

As Paycom fights court sanctions, company splurges on arena naming rights

OKLAHOMA CITY (July 27, 2021)—Tech giant Paycom has spent an undisclosed sum—potentially millions—for the naming rights to the former Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City even as the company fights to avoid payment of court sanctions of up to $105 million for filing a frivolous lawsuit against the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA).

“The court has already ruled that Paycom filed a meritless lawsuit against OCPA for engaging in our constitutionally protected free-speech rights. Under state law, frivolous lawsuits designed to impede legally allowed free speech are subject to a sanction sufficient to deter such abuses again,” said OCPA President Jonathan Small. “Rather than do the right thing, Paycom continues to engage in delay tactics. The fact that the company has so much surplus cash it can now splurge on arena naming rights demonstrates, again, the lack of seriousness from this company when it comes to Oklahomans’ free-speech rights and a troubling failure to operate as a good corporate citizen.”

In 2020, Paycom sued OCPA claiming defamation and tortious interference occurred when an OCPA article briefly mentioned Paycom CEO Chad Richison’s public 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. Richison’s comments were made in a public letter written under his name and on Paycom letterhead.

On Dec. 30, 2020, OCPA’s motion to dismiss Paycom’s amended petition was sustained. 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.”

Under the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act, an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law designed to protect free speech, 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.

An expert analysis has concluded Paycom should face a “minimum” sanction of $105 million to deter the company from again filing frivolous lawsuits against the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and similar entities. A second expert analysis independently concluded that Paycom should pay a sanction of around $95 million.

Paycom continues try to delay the sanctions process in court, although it has yet to win a significant ruling in its favor, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently rejected Paycom’s latest attempt to stay the fines-and-fees hearing in the case.

Officials announced today that Paycom has purchased the naming rights to the Oklahoma City arena that hosts Oklahoma City Thunder basketball games for 15 years. The amount paid by Paycom was not disclosed, but the naming rights for the same arena were previously sold to Chesapeake Energy Corporation for $34 million in a similar multi-year agreement.

Paycom CEO Chad Richison has denounced free-speech rights in prior public missives. In a March 3, 2020 letter to the University of Oklahoma’s board of regents, Richison wrote that the university’s “previous diversity training efforts failed because they assured free speech protection.”

“Having your company logo displayed at basketball games is a form of speech—but so is the right of all Oklahoma citizens to openly debate political issues,” Small said. “Paycom fails to understand that the latter is much more important than the former.”