Former Buffalo Bill Center employee sues museum
CODY — A former employee of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has filed suit against the museum in U.S. Federal Court.
On May 4, Powell resident Bonnie Smith submitted her complaint against the Center, alleging discrimination in her firing. She is requesting pay for lost and future wages, damages, and reimbursement for attorney’s fees.
Smith said she had already submitted a discrimination charge against the Center in December 2019 with the U.S. Department of Labor, on the basis of sex, age and retaliation. In February the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission sent Smith a Right to Sue letter. A Right to Sue letter is issued when the agency cannot determine whether the employer discriminated against an employee.
Smith was a curatorial assistant in the Draper Natural History Museum and claims she was terminated in March 2019 due to what she claims were allegations made about her by five employees. She said the woman who officially terminated her was a temporary supervisor who had a “known and stated vendetta” against her that was unbeknownst to the executive director of the museum at the time, Peter Siebert.
Smith said this supervisor colluded with others to fabricate claims against her and fire her because Smith is a woman, because of her age, and as retaliation for reporting to federal agencies the museum’s mishandling of artifacts.
Smith is being represented by Worland attorney Christopher King.
A spokesperson for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West said it does not comment on pending legal matters when asked about Smith’s suit.
In her termination letter that was included in court documents, Smith was accused of not staying in her “own lane.” The Center listed insubordination, violation of company policies, and gross misconduct as reasons for her firing. The letter also referenced a disciplinary warning that occurred about six months prior to the termination.
Smith described herself as “performing her work tremendously” for the Center. After hired to work in the gift shop in 2010, she eventually worked her way up to the curatorial assistant position.
During her time with the Center, she performed personal research documenting golden eagle nest sites near petroglyphs depicting thunderbirds in the Big Horn Basin, and gave public presentations on the petroglyphs to visitors of the museum. She also helped measure and record prehistoric petroglyphs the Center removed from BLM property between Greybull and Basin in the 1960s.
Her work with the Center was recognized in the National American Alliance of Museums newsletter about a month before her firing.
After being terminated, she said the Center used photography of hers related to this work without her permission, discussed her in a negative way to other organizations, and severely damaged her reputation, causing her severe distress.
Smith mentioned a younger co-worker who she described as “inexperienced” when hired over her. But this employee, according to the Center’s website, has two masters degrees, while she has none. She said this discrimination happened due to her being a woman and not as young as the man.
She also claimed one employee conspired against her and another was aggressive toward her.
When she was terminated, the Center mentioned a complaint had been made against her by a volunteer. She claimed to have had little involvement with volunteers. In the termination letter, the Center also said she spent a significant amount of time chatting and gossiping on the clock. It also said she held “contempt” for her co-workers.
She was also accused in the termination notice of sending a letter to the Draper board that violated the confidentiality of the hiring process and contained inaccurate information, and going around her supervisor to receive funding from outside organizations.
When she was terminated, the Center banned her from the premises and removed her access to the Center’s social media pages.
She is still president of the Wyoming Archaeology Society’s Absaroka Chapter.
Earlier this year Smith opened a separate case in Park County civil court against the museum, suing for what she claims was a failure to return her personal property when she was fired.