Fired DOC worker alleges retaliation for reporting sexual harassment by former prison warden on behalf of another worker

Investigates

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The headline was updated to include that the harassment report was filed on behalf of another worker.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Three more South Dakota Department of Corrections employees have been fired.

The director of the prison work program, Stefany Bawek, is one of three employees to lose their jobs this week in the shakeup at the DOC.

Governor Kristi Noem took action in July after receiving an anonymous complaint with allegations of sexual harassment, nepotism, poor pay, bad equipment and dangerous conditions in the state prison system. KELOLAND Investigates has uncovered details on at least one sexual harassment issue that may have lead to the fallout.

You’ll remember that both Warden Darin Young and Deputy Warden Jennifer Dreiske lost their jobs at the State Penitentiary in July.

At the time, Secretary of Corrections Mike Leidholt and Stefany Bawek, with the prison’s Pheasantland Industries, were placed on administrative leave.

Bawek was on unpaid leave when the South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources let her know this week that she was fired. Now, Bawek has filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Our investigation reveals that complaint contains new details on allegations of sexual harassment involving the now-former warden.

Bawek came to the prison system from the retail world. In the last three years, she increased revenue at Pheasantland Industries by nearly 50 percent. KELOLAND News spoke to Bawek about the prison work program in 2019.

Pheasantland Industries Director Stefany Bawek was fired on August 5

“We make all sorts of awesome things. Anywhere from designing a custom kitchen to the road signs you see on the highway every day,” Bawek said on August 27, 2019.

But now Bawek is out of the job.

According to her complaint filed with the EEOC, Bawek says her termination was not justified, nor fair, but was in fact retaliation for reporting sexual harassment by Warden Darin Young on behalf of another female employee.

Former Sioux Falls Penitentiary Warden Darin Young was fired on July 15

According to Bawek’s complaint, “Commissioner Darin Seeley of the South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources had previously emailed all DOC Staff to announce that he was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct at the penitentiary and that any information…should be reported to him.”

Bawek goes on to say that the investigation was prompted by “a widely circulated anonymous complaint about working conditions including sexual harassment among staff members.” Bawek writes that she “wasn’t the author of the anonymous complaint and didn’t know who was, but affirms there was a general fear about retaliation for making a report of sexual harassment.”

The Department of Corrections held its annual meeting at Cadillac Jacks in Deadwood from May 3-5. Bawek says in her federal filing a DOC worker accused Young of sexual harassment during the conference.

According to the document the woman, “reported to her that Young had engaged in unwelcomed (sp) physical touching and directed unwelcomed (sp) attention to a female staff member.” That person also reported to Bawek, “Warden Young had apparently followed another female staff member back to her hotel room and appeared to be intoxicated.” When Bawek asked if this female worker intended to report it, she responded she was “afraid to do so because she feared she would be fired.”

Bawek reported the alleged sexual harassment directly to commissioner Seeley over the phone. She told Seeley she was was “fearful of losing her job in relation” for reporting it.

“According to her complaint, Seeley said he would ‘look into it.’ and she was “never contacted…. again.”

KELOLAND Investigates has learned that Seeley questioned Young about the alleged incident in late May or early June and Young denied any inappropriate behavior. KELOLAND Investigates reached out to Young and he provided us with a statement in which he says:

I was just made aware of a ‘fourth party complaint’ / rumor alleging that I had acted inappropriately toward a staff member of the SDSP. I unequivocally deny that I ever touched a staff member with any type of intimidating or sexually-oriented purpose, that I ever followed anyone to their hotel room or that I entered anyone else’s hotel room, or that I could have been perceived as being intoxicated. I welcome facing any accuser as I am no longer in a position to affect anyone’s employment.

Former SD State Penitentiary Warden Darin Young

Bawek says in her complaint that she was handed an envelope with her name on it telling her she was being put on leave two days after Noem made the investigation public. Bawek says she was “in shock” and wasn’t given any explanation for it, but was “walked out of her office” by a deputy warden.

Bawek says she should have been protected under federal law after making a complaint of sexual harassment and believes she was fired in retaliation. Bawek and Young have both turned down on-camera interviews.

KELOLAND Investigates reached out to Governor Noem’s office for comment.

The governor’s office says Bawek’s report of sexual harassment was not the reason for her firing, but did not elaborate. 

DOC Secretary Mike Leidholdt remains on administrative leave. 

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