BROWNWOOD, TX — A Brownwood woman has filed a lawsuit against a women's shelter, claiming she was unfairly fired by an all-white executive staff because of her Mexican heritage. In her legal action, she is seeking over $100,000 in damages. The lawsuit was initially filed in the 35th Judicial District Court of Brown County but has been moved to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, San Angelo Division, due to the plaintiff's assertion that her termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute.
According to the lawsuit, Zelma Siddle alleges that she was terminated without valid reasons simply because she is Hispanic and speaks Spanish fluently. In her account, she states that she was instructed to contact Child Protective Services to report the whereabouts of a minor girl, whom her Anglo boss believed to be a victim of trafficking.
Siddle claims that on December 27, 2021, she assisted a Spanish-speaking mother who sought help at The Ark, the family violence shelter in Brownwood, due to family violence. The mother had three daughters with her, one of whom was under 18 years old, and she could only communicate in Spanish. At the time, Siddle was one of only two counselors at The Ark who could speak Spanish and assist the mother.
During her conversation in Spanish with the mother, Siddle learned that the minor child was not being trafficked but was, in fact, being cared for by her two adult older sisters, aged 19 and 26. Siddle was concerned that if she reported this situation to CPS, the minor girl might be returned to the home where the domestic violence had occurred. Additionally, if Siddle did not believe trafficking had occurred, reporting it as such to CPS would constitute a false report, she argued. Therefore, Siddle refused to contact CPS.
In response to this, the executive director of The Ark issued Siddle a written warning, as outlined in the lawsuit. Siddle declined to sign the warning and instead provided a written response explaining her reasoning for not contacting CPS. She added that she based her decision on her "personal knowledge of Hispanic family culture, determining that the minor daughter was safe and being cared for by her older siblings, as was customary."
Before the written warning in December 2021, Siddle asserts that she had no prior employment issues and had been working at The Ark since September 2019. However, following the December 2021 incident, her work circumstances changed significantly. She was no longer allowed to park in front of the building, required to turn on her camera during remote Zoom meetings, unlike her Anglo co-workers, and was accused of stealing The Ark's property when she took her laptop home to work remotely.
"Other employees were still allowed to work from home using The Ark’s computers," the complaint stated.
When Siddle addressed a co-worker's lax intake procedures that may have allowed homeless women who were not experiencing abuse to enter the shelter and consume limited resources, the co-worker accused Siddle of "bullying." Siddle's boss sided with the co-worker and placed Siddle on a 30-day probation period.
Siddle claims that the workplace pressure led to a mental breakdown, causing her to take a week off. Upon her return, while attending an out-of-town conference, she accidentally overslept through an afternoon session, leading to her termination. However, another Anglo co-worker who missed the same session received only disciplinary action, according to Siddle's allegations.
In her lawsuit, Siddle maintains that she faced discrimination and retaliation because of her Mexican national origin. She is seeking exemplary damages and attorney's fees as a result of these alleged actions.
The Ark, in its response, has denied all the allegations in general. The organization's attorneys argue that Siddle is not entitled to her claims because she did not report her grievances to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or any other agency before filing the lawsuit.
The Ark, located at 2900 Coggin Avenue in Brownwood, serves Brown, Coleman, and Comanche Counties.