Wyoming’s First Black Female Prison Warden Loses Hostile Workplace Lawsuit

A federal jury ruled Tuesday that the Wyoming Department of Corrections did not create an unlawfully hostile work environment for the state’s first Black female prison warden, who claimed corruption within her ranks.

Clair McFarland

July 02, 20244 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming’s prisons system did not create an unlawfully hostile work environment for the state’s first Black female warden, who claimed corruption within her ranks, a federal jury ruled Tuesday.

The jury ruled in favor of the Wyoming Department of Corrections (DOC) and against Ruby Ziegler following a seven-day trial in the Casper branch of the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

Despite the verdict, Ziegler’s attorney MaryElizabeth Galvan lauded her client for her five-year fight.

“I’m disappointed in the verdict of course,” said Galvan, adding that she respects the process and the jury. “I think Ms. Ziegler is a hero. She’s one of the bravest people I know, because she has been fighting discrimination — race and sex discrimination — her entire career here in Wyoming.”

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, which defended DOC in the case, did not immediately respond to a Tuesday request for comment.

DOC Director Dan Shannon gave a brief statement of gratitude to the jury.

“I’m very grateful for the service provided by our citizens as jurors and the dedicated work from the (Wyoming) Attorney General’s office,” Shannon told Cowboy State Daily after the verdict.

This One Remained

Ziegler started working for DOC in 2006 and rose to the rank of Wyoming Honor Farm Warden in 2016. She became the agency’s first African American female warden.

She was fired in 2019, after complaints about her reached then-DOC Director Robert Lampert.

She sued DOC in 2022, alleging that her firing stemmed from both discrimination and her own efforts to root out potential corruption within her ranks, and that DOC created a hostile workplace for her.

Her discrimination and retaliation claims failed in court.

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled May 28 that because Lampert was able to plead an apparently good-faith reason for her firing that didn’t stem from her race, sex or her faith as a Christian, Ziegler’s claim could not go to trial.

She also couldn’t show that her firing was due to retaliation, because she wasn’t fired for fighting specific federal workplace law violations, Skavdahl’s order says.

But the judge allowed one claim, Ziegler’s hostile workplace claim, to advance to trial, saying he found its components “noteworthy” and that there were good arguments on both sides of it.

An Alleged Affair

Ziegler’s original lawsuit complaint alleged that a captain working under her supervision was having an extra-marital affair with a DOC contract employee.

When the contract employee fired a nurse working under her supervision, the nurse told Ziegler that the captain had orchestrated her firing because she “walked in” on the captain and the contract employee in a sexual act, according to Ziegler’s deposition testimony.

Ziegler reported the suspected corruption to Shannon, who was then the prison division administrator. She asked for an investigation.

Shannon told her to “think it over.”

Shannon said during deposition that by saying “think it over,” he was urging Ziegler to consider whether enough evidence existed for the investigation.

Ziegler maintained during her testimony that Shannon was instead warning her that she might turn her staff against herself, according to court documents.

Days later, the captain filed a complaint against Ziegler, saying she was trying to ruin his reputation.  

Lampert fired Ziegler after that and after receiving other complaints against her, the judge’s order says.

Court documents say that DOC did not launch an investigation at that time into the captain’s alleged affair and reported meddling in the nurse’s firing, but did launch an investigation into the captain’s report that Ziegler was trying to ruin his reputation.  

Business Practices?

But Lampert reportedly didn’t know about Ziegler’s corruption claim when he fired her, Skavdahl recounted in his order.

The judge indicated it may not be the best business practice not to consider all factors before firing someone, but Lampert’s ignorance of Ziegler’s corruption claim actually supported his own testimony that he fired her for her own allegedly disruptive behaviors, the order says.

Lampert testified during deposition that he fired Ziegler “because of her behavior, because of her comments (creating) a hostile, ineffective work environment.”

He said she was gossiping, creating a sexualized work environment, making inappropriate or religious comments at work and that she was “misappropriating state resources.”

Skavdahl noted later in his order that Ziegler’s alleged “misappropriation” involved her directing Honor Farm kitchen workers to save scraps for her own pigs.

Lampert also claimed Ziegler had retaliated against outspoken subordinate staffers.

Ziegler’s hostile work environment claim had valid arguments on both sides, and “is best sorted out by a jury,” Skavdahl concluded.

The jury ruled in favor of DOC at about 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter