The first African American female warden to serve the Wyoming Department of Corrections is suing the prisons system for firing her, claiming her termination stemmed from her race, sex and from trying to investigate an alleged marital affair within her staff.
Ruby Ziegler, who served as Wyoming Honor Farm warden in Riverton from 2016 until she was terminated in 2019, filed lawsuit Monday in federal court against the Wyoming Department of Corrections. She asks the court to arrange a jury trial in the hopes of receiving back pay, other damages awards and reinstatement as warden.
The Department of Corrections declined to comment to Cowboy State Daily, saying it doesn’t discuss active litigation.
Ziegler is an African American Christian female over the age of 40 and has been medically diagnosed with occipital neuralgia, according to the complaint in her lawsuit. She alleges that these factors played a role in the tension experienced in her workplace.
She says in the complaint that she was one of “only two” African American female employees in the statewide Department of Corrections during her employment, and that after she was fired her job was given to a white male.
“She was subjected to hostile working environment discrimination based on her race, sex, religion, age and disability from her associate staff, other subordinate staff,” the complaint reads.
Ziegler’s complaint says Honor Farm staffers complained to the department’s deputy prison administrator because Ziegler had made biblical references that made staff “uncomfortable.”
“She was given to understand (these) included saying ‘bless you’ in response to a sneeze and playing what a staff member interpreted as ‘religious music’ in her office,” the complaint reads. “White employee who made specific biblical references, discussed religious topics or played religious music at the workplace were not similarly disciplined.”
An Alleged Affair
The department contracts for medical services with Corizon Health Inc., the complaint states.
In 2019, one of Corizon’s employees was fired, and she told Ziegler she believed it was because a white male corrections officer, under Ziegler’s supervision, was having an extramarital affair with a Corizon supervisor, the complaint says.
Ziegler’s complaint says she reported the fired employee’s complaint to the deputy prison administrator and the prison operations administrator who acknowledged they were “aware about the gossip” of the situation, but did not launch an investigation into the report.
Ziegler then learned, the complaint says, that the corrections officer whose conduct was in question had filed a hostile work environment charge against her.
The deputy prison administrator apologized to Ziegler for not letting her investigate that officer’s conduct, the complaint alleges, adding that Ziegler sees this as acknowledgement that the corrections officer’s complaint against her was “retaliatory.”
But the department pursued the investigation against Ziegler following the officer’s complaint, though it never initiated an investigation into the officer, the complaint alleges.
The complaint says that Ziegler’s occipital neuralgia is a recognized disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but in her case did not interfere with her work.
She informed WDOC of her condition in 2011, she said, noting that she’d been employed at the department since 2006.
In early 2018, a “white female corrections officer” under Ziegler’s supervision complained that Ziegler was unsafe at work because of her condition, the complaint continues.
“This unfounded allegation prevented (Ziegler) from the use of a state vehicle to attend a previously scheduled safety meeting,” the complaint says, “because (the woman who complained) falsely regarded her as disabled without foundation.”
Ziegler’s complaint says her protests of this restriction were met with “ridicule” by the deputy prison administrator.
‘Accosted’ And Fired
Ziegler was placed on leave on July 29, 2019, one day after the corrections officer whom she’d tried to investigate “accosted” her and “falsely (accused) her of having conveyed confidential information to an unauthorized party,” the complaint alleges. “(Ziegler) did not know what he was referring to.”
She was fired Aug. 22, 2019.
The department “has no legitimate business or governmental reason for the actions to which it subjected (Ziegler),” the complaint alleges.
Those actions, it says, include “hostile work environment discrimination, disciplinary action and termination, which actions were undertaken because of her race and gender and other protected statuses, and in retaliation for her having engaged in a protected activity (the personnel investigation).”
Ziegler’s lawsuit aims to secure a court order barring the department from engaging in “discriminatory practices” and letting its workplaces be “permeated with discrimination.”
She also hopes to be reinstated as Honor Farm warden and to receive back pay, including raises, plus legal fees reimbursement; compensatory and punitive damages “for the injuries to her civil rights.”