Lawsuit Against Buffalo Bill Center Dismissed, Plaintiff To Continue Efforts

A lawsuit against Cody's Buffalo Bill Center of the West that alleged age and gender discrimination against a former employee has been dismissed by a federal judge.

Wendy Corr

January 04, 20223 min read

Cody center
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A lawsuit against Cody’s prestigious Buffalo Bill Center of the West that alleged age and gender discrimination against a former employee has been dismissed by a federal judge.

But Bonnie Smith, who served for 10 years as a curatorial assistant for the center’s Draper Museum of Natural History, said she is not giving up her effort to hold the center accountable for what she called her wrongful termination.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal dismissed the age and sex discrimination lawsuit in late December, finding Smith did not provide enough facts to back up her allegations and failed to exhaust all administrative remedies available to her before filing her lawsuit.

Smith was fired in early 2019 on grounds of “insubordination, gross misconduct, and violation of company policies/procedures.”

In her lawsuit filed in 2021, Smith alleged that she was actually fired because she had notified federal agencies that the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association, the parent organization of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, had incorrectly handled artifacts and was guilty of age and gender discrimination and that her interim supervisor, Rebecca West, had a personal vendetta against Smith.

Smith’s lawsuit claimed that during her employment with BBMA, a male employee with less experience was hired and promoted above Smith. 

The lawsuit also alleged that another co-worker had “laid hands on her in a violent and aggressive manner,” and nothing was done to address the incident despite her reports to her supervisor.

The lawsuit also claimed that Melissa Hill (who was in charge of the center’s raptor program) conspired with other defendants to make false allegations against Smith so that she would be terminated, and that West, now the center’s CEO, “made up inaccurate allegations that Smith was not acting in a professional manner.” 

West said the organization was satisfied with Fruedenthal’s ruling.

“The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is pleased with the Court’s decision,” she said. “We will continue to support our valued employees and maintain an inclusive and rewarding workplace.”

Freudenthal’s decision to dismiss all of the claims came as a blow to Smith, who said she loved her job as curatorial assistant at the Center’s Draper Museum of Natural History.

“I absolutely loved what I did every day,” Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “And working with the community and sharing our museum with the public gave me such joy. And to walk into work one day and suddenly be told that I have a pattern of poor performance – and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I have, like, close to 10 years of annual job reviews that are ‘exceeds expectations.’” 

Smith said she is not giving up the case.

“All that decision means is that that judge did not find specific instances of discrimination,” Smith said. “None of our state claims are dismissed. So we are going to continue to pursue this in state court, for the defamation, wrongful termination, breach of contract, things like that.”

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Wendy Corr

Broadcast Media Director