Dane County, zoo group must pay $2.8M to settle lawsuit

As part of a settlement, Dane County and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) must pay a combined $2.8 million to a former UW–Madison researcher who accused Vilas Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz of sexually assaulting him during a 2018 work trip to Seattle and later retaliating against him for reporting it, according to a report from the Wisconsin State Journal.

Neither Schwetz nor the AZA have to admit wrongdoing under the settlement, but court documents from the case, filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle, show Schwetz made other sexual advances toward men in a bar during the AZA conference in Seattle, which led to a verbal reprimand by AZA leadership.

The AZA then failed to act after it learned that Schwetz sabotaged the researcher’s employment at a different zoo, according to a letter to members drafted by the AZA under the terms of the settlement, reached in December.

Under the settlement, Dane County must pay $500,000 to the researcher. The AZA, an independent accrediting group for the country’s zoos, must pay $2.3 million. The payout is for damages related to the alleged discrimination, retaliation, and distress experienced by the researcher.