Colorado Parks and Wildlife director’s exit triggered by $50,000 settlement

Colorado agreed to a $50,000 settlement with former Parks and Wildlife director Dan Prenzlow for “emotional distress” and other issues in the wake of an outside investigation that found he facilitated an unhealthy work environment.

The state also agreed to pay more than $75,000 to an employee, Alease “Aloe” Lee, who was the target of a racist remark from Prenzlow at an April conference in Vail, according to settlement agreements obtained Wednesday by The Denver Post under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Lee resigned last month, while Prenzlow retired last week after 36 years with Colorado Parks and Wildlife — both departures contingent on the settlement agreements. His three-year tenure at the helm of the agency came to an end six months after he attempted to thank Lee, who is Black, at the end of a conference this spring by saying, “There she is, in the back of the bus, Aloe.”

The state agreed to pay Prenzlow $26,160 for “emotional distress,” according to the Oct. 4 agreement, while $17,440 of the total settlement went toward “disputed wages.” The remaining $6,400 went to the former director’s attorneys.

The settlement also stipulated that Prenzlow voluntarily retire Nov. 1 in lieu of termination.

The state and the former agency head reached the agreement to “avoid the expense and vagaries of litigation… without admission of liability or wrongdoing.” It included a non-disparagement clause, barring Prenzlow from making any disparaging remarks against the agency and its leaders.

Lee’s attorney, Pete Webb, said Prenzlow “regrets profoundly that an off-hand remark did away with the goodwill that he fostered over his years with the state.”

“He had a great career with the state, he was a dedicated state employee, and really lived and breathed the mission of the Division of Wildlife,” Webb said, referring to the precursor to what’s now the Parks and Wildlife division.

Lee agreed in her settlement to withdraw a discrimination complaint that she had filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The state agreed to pay her $75,634 — the equivalent of one year’s salary. In exchange, Lee agreed to resign and not to sue the agency or disparage its leaders.

The state agreed with both Lee and Prenzlow to provide a neutral job reference for any future employers, saying they resigned for “personal reasons.”

The state suspended Prenzlow after the “back of the bus” remark — which harkens back to Jim Crow-era laws mandating Black people sit in the back of public buses — and subsequently hired a third-party firm to conduct an investigation into the comments he and others made at the conference.

The probe, first reported Monday by The Post, found Prenzlow fostered an unhealthy workplace in terms of equity and could no longer effectively lead the agency.

Witnesses told investigators that Prenzlow led a “good ole’ boy” culture within Parks and Wildlife that made some uncomfortable. He pushed back on the title of a diverse presentation at April’s “Partners in Outdoors” conference, the report found, and asked certain personality questions about female job candidates that he wouldn’t ask of men.

Investigations Law Group, which conducted the review, found the Parks and Wildlife chief violated several state and departmental policies surrounding harassment, discrimination, ethics, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Prenzlow, in a statement through his attorney, said that while “I do not agree with much of the tone of the state’s review of my conduct, it is time to close this chapter and find more reasons to experience our wonderful Colorado outdoors.”

Lee also was suspended after the conference. A separate investigation found she violated state and departmental policies by sending several explicit messages to conference attendees, in which she took aim at Prenzlow and other state leaders.

An attorney for Lee could not be reached Wednesday evening. Lee has not responded to requests for comment from The Post since May.

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