SeaWorld unlawfully terminated Linda Simons for cooperating with OSHA

May 1, 2010

OSHAARTICLES:

SeaWorld fined $75,000 for whale trainer’s death
August 23, 2010 – 7:00pm

By MIKE SCHNEIDER
Associated Press Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The federal job safety agency fined SeaWorld Orlando $75,000 on Monday for three violations uncovered while investigating the February death of a trainer who was grabbed by a killer whale and dragged underwater.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration categorized the most serious violation as “willful,” or showing indifference or intentional disregard for employee safety. That citation, carrying a $70,000 penalty, was for exposing workers to drowning hazards when interacting with killer whales.

The agency proposes not allowing trainers to have any physical contact with Tilikum, the killer whale responsible for trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death in February, unless protected by a physical barrier.

The OSHA report described Tilikum as having “known aggressive tendencies.” The six-ton whale was one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer in 1991 after the woman lost her balance and fell in the pool at Sealand of the Pacific near Victoria, British Columbia. Tilikum also was also involved in a 1999 death, when the body of a man who had sneaked by SeaWorld Orlando security was found draped over him.

Sea World trainers were forbidden from getting in the water with Tilikum because of the previous deaths. But the killer whale still managed to grab Brancheau’s long hair as she laid on her stomach on a cement clab in three inches of water. The cause of death was drowning and traumatic injuries.

The OSHA report also suggests that trainers not work with other killer whales at the park, either in the water or out of water, unless they are protected by a barrier, deck or oxygen-supply system underwater.

“SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities, including its location in Orlando,” OSHA said in a statement released with the report.

The second citation, deemed serious, was for failing to install a stairway railing system beside the stage in Shamu Stadium. That citation carried a $5,000 penalty.

The third citation was considered “other-than-serious” and was for failing to have weather-protected electrical receptacles at the stadium. That citation didn’t have a penalty.

SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs said the park will contest the citation.

“SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA today,” Jacobs said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a former director of health and safety at SeaWorld Orlando went public Monday with allegations that SeaWorld tried to obstruct the investigation by blocking OSHA investigators from coming to the property and refusing to give the agency some documents, charges the theme park denies. Linda Simons, who was fired in April after only two months on the job, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against SeaWorld with OSHA.

“SeaWorld did not want to cooperate at all,” Simons said in a telephone interview. “They really felt that if the information was going to get out to the public, it would hurt their business.”

SeaWorld cooperated fully with OSHA, said Jacobs, who accused Simons of threatening the theme park with negative publicity if she didn’t get a payment from the company. Simons’ attorney, Maurice Arcadier, said his client never tried to extort SeaWorld but was seeking reinstatement and back pay.

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Online:

SeaWorld: http://www.seaworld.com/

OSHA: http://www.osha.gov/

(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
By MIKE SCHNEIDER
Associated Press Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The federal job safety agency fined SeaWorld Orlando $75,000 on Monday for three violations uncovered while investigating the February death of a trainer who was grabbed by a killer whale and dragged underwater.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration categorized the most serious violation as “willful,” or showing indifference or intentional disregard for employee safety. That citation, carrying a $70,000 penalty, was for exposing workers to drowning hazards when interacting with killer whales.

The agency proposes not allowing trainers to have any physical contact with Tilikum, the killer whale responsible for trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death in February, unless protected by a physical barrier.

The OSHA report described Tilikum as having “known aggressive tendencies.” The six-ton whale was one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer in 1991 after the woman lost her balance and fell in the pool at Sealand of the Pacific near Victoria, British Columbia. Tilikum also was also involved in a 1999 death, when the body of a man who had sneaked by SeaWorld Orlando security was found draped over him.

Sea World trainers were forbidden from getting in the water with Tilikum because of the previous deaths. But the killer whale still managed to grab Brancheau’s long hair as she laid on her stomach on a cement clab in three inches of water. The cause of death was drowning and traumatic injuries.

The OSHA report also suggests that trainers not work with other killer whales at the park, either in the water or out of water, unless they are protected by a barrier, deck or oxygen-supply system underwater.

“SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities, including its location in Orlando,” OSHA said in a statement released with the report.

The second citation, deemed serious, was for failing to install a stairway railing system beside the stage in Shamu Stadium. That citation carried a $5,000 penalty.

The third citation was considered “other-than-serious” and was for failing to have weather-protected electrical receptacles at the stadium. That citation didn’t have a penalty.

SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs said the park will contest the citation.

“SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA today,” Jacobs said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a former director of health and safety at SeaWorld Orlando went public Monday with allegations that SeaWorld tried to obstruct the investigation by blocking OSHA investigators from coming to the property and refusing to give the agency some documents, charges the theme park denies. Linda Simons, who was fired in April after only two months on the job, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against SeaWorld with OSHA.

“SeaWorld did not want to cooperate at all,” Simons said in a telephone interview. “They really felt that if the information was going to get out to the public, it would hurt their business.”

SeaWorld cooperated fully with OSHA, said Jacobs, who accused Simons of threatening the theme park with negative publicity if she didn’t get a payment from the company. Simons’ attorney, Maurice Arcadier, said his client never tried to extort SeaWorld but was seeking reinstatement and back pay.

___

LARRY KING TRANSCRIPTS:

CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Did SeaWorld Help Cause Death of a Killer Whale Trainer?; Egg Recall Details

Aired August 23, 2010 – 21:00 ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a prime time exclusive. Did Seaworld help cause the death of a killer whale’s trainer? A former employee says yes. And that beautiful Dawn Brancheau didn’t have to die. The whistleblower’s here with that shocking charge on the day feds fine the park for serious safety violations. Why a coverup?

And then, half a billion possibly tainted eggs shipped to 17 states. Salmonella making hundreds, maybe thousands sick. Should you eat eggs? What you need to know to protect yourself and the family next on “LARRY KING LIVE.”

Good evening. February this year, a trainer at Seaworld killed by a six-ton killer whale. Dawn Brancheau was grabbed by Tillicum and drowned. Tillicum had a violent history. Was previously linked to the deaths of two others.

Today, OSHA fined the park $75,000 for safety violations, saying it required its employees to work within the pool walls on ledges and shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals. Seaworld today called the allegations unfounded and says it will fight them.

Linda Simons is a former employee, who makes some serious allegations of her own. We welcome her and her attorney Maurice Arcadier. Welcome as a witness describes what she saw at Seaworld back in February. Then we’ll talk with the guests. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: –the trainer downstairs then called out to the trainer upstairs, okay so and so we’re ready. And then Tillicum just took off like a bat out of you know where. Just took off really fast. And then he came back around to the glass, jumped up, and grabbed the trainer by the waist, and started shaking her violently. And her shoe — last thing I saw was her shoe floating and then sirens immediately started. And then everybody down. Like the — not the trainer, but the other people that kind of stand around the glass area started telling us that we needed to get out, get out. The sirens were going off. People were running out. It’s like I never saw so many Seaworld employees come out of the woodwork.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Correct pronunciation of the whale’s name is Tillicum. And let’s ask Linda Simons, the former health and safety director for Seaworld, Orlando. She started work one week before the death of Dawn. What happened? What did you see? What do you know, Linda?

LINDA SIMONS, FMR. SEAWORLD EMPLOYEE: When I responded to the pool area, it was very chaotic. There were lots of employees that had responded. They were people putting themselves though in danger when they were in the rescue. People in high heels on the rock work. People who had no training with whales trying to help recover Dawn. People jumping on the gates. There are gates that split the pools so they could move Tillie from one pool to another. People jumping on those gates, putting themselves in close danger.

And at the final, when they get Tillie to the medical pool and lifted him up, team members were allowed to enter that pool and recover Dawn’s body from Tillie’s mouth as he thrashed about. It was a very chaotic scene.

KING: Are there certain procedures that are followed? Do they practice certain things at Seaworld in case of something like this?

SIMONS: Yes. They do have procedures in place. And there was an exercise, a safety exercise, at the beginning of February that was very similar to the incident where they had the drill. And unfortunately, the drill went so poorly, people didn’t respond. People that did respond did not do what they were supposed to, that they called off the drill. They didn’t go any further with it. And they were going to do another exercise. Unfortunately, Dawn’s incident happened before that.

KING: Could the death have been prevented?

SIMONS: I think if they had kept the distance away from Tillie. Dawn was very close to him. That was what allowed him to grab her and pull her into the pool.

KING: Did that whale have a reputation?

SIMONS: Very much. He was known from the day they brought him there that he was a very dangerous whale. They never allowed any trainers in the water. And when you say in the water, that means in the pool submerged. Where Dawn was was a ledged area. And it was about 18 inches deep of water. But they knew that he was dangerous. They had the Tillie talk that anyone new to the stadium whether from internal, transfer, or a new person from outside of Seaworld, they had the Tillie talk that told them that if they went in the water with Tillie, they were going to come out a corpse.

KING: Maurice, this $75,000 fine in this day and age, that seems small. How do you react to that? And then I’ll read a statement from Seaworld. But how do you react to that — the amount of that fine?

MAURICE ARCADIER, ATTORNEY FOR LINDA SIMONS: Well, the fine is broken down into two. The highest possible fine is $70,000 for one incident. So they gave them the highest possible fine for an egregious incident. And then a $5,000 for the second one for a lesser offense, but OSHA gave the highest fine they could possibly give. KING: I want to read Seaworld’s response to Linda’s accusations. This is what they say. “The safety of our staff, guests, and animals is Seaworld’s highest priority. And we have cooperated fully in OSHA’s inspection of the February 24th accident. We’re not at all surprised to hear that Ms. Simons has reached out to the media with these unfounded charges. Since her termination several months ago, her representatives have used the threat of negative publicity to seek a sizable monetary payment from Seaworld in exchange for her not going public with these false allegations. Linda Simons worked for Seaworld for only a few weeks and was fired not for the reasons she cites, but rather for poor performance during the OSHA inspection of Dawn Brancheau’s death. During those critical weeks, Ms. Simons repeatedly demonstrated an inability to conduct herself to the acceptable standards of competence, transparency, integrity or professionalism demanded of an inspection of this magnitude. Any claim to the contrary is simply false.”

All right, Linda and Maurice, Linda, did you seek money from Seaworld in order not to speak out?

ARCADIER: Before — one thing I want to point out, once we filed an OSHA retaliation complaint, we made OSHA a party to this claim. Therefore, we couldn’t — and one of the requirements of OSHA is that any settlement cannot be tied with a gag order. And they know that very well. So we find those — the accusations that we’re trying to extort them outrageous.

SIMONS: And Seaworld did not fully cooperate.

KING: Give me that–

ARCADIER: Yes, once we filed for an OSHA retaliation, OSHA becomes a party. And they in order for a settlement to occur, they have to approve it. And one of the requirements that they put forth is that you can’t enter into any confidentiality concerning that. That’s one of the requirements of OSHA. So their allegation is simply outrageous and against the law.

KING: Linda, how do you respond to that statement they just gave us?

SIMONS: Seaworld did not fully cooperate. From the very beginning, they wanted to block them from coming onsite. They wanted to withhold documents. When I was terminated, there was still documents that OSHA had requested and never given. They also wanted to make sure that those documents were never disclosed out to the public, because of the damage that could be done. So they did not fully cooperate with the investigation.

The allegations about my performance, I never received any negative, verbal or written, reprimand, feedback of any nature. Only praise from the CEO on down. So those outrageous about my performance is just untrue.

KING: So what did they tell you when they fired you?

SIMONS: They told me it wasn’t a good fit.

KING: That’s all they said?

SIMONS: But the week before was — yes. They said it was not a good fit. The week before that was when they refused to give the documents to OSHA. And I didn’t agree with that. OSHA requested the documents. Our goal at Seaworld should have been the same as OSHA, to fully investigate so that no one else was injured or killed by Tillie. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that was Seaworld’s priority.

KING: Well, have more after this. Get your Twitter questions ready and calls ready for our experts on the salmonella scare. That’s later.

Coming up, stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Linda and Maurice remain. Rick O’Barry joins us. He captured and trained the five dolphins that we used in the TV show “Flipper”. He has spent the last 38 years fighting against animal captivity. He’s featured in Animal Planet’s new mini series “Blood Dolphins” that premieres Friday, August 27th. He’s written an exclusive blog about blood dolphins, which you can find at cnn.com/larryking.

Thad Lacinak is a former head trainer for Seaworld Orlando. He’s an animal training consultant. His company is Precision Behavior.

Thad, you said — what’s your response to the fine and this whole story?

THAD LACINAK: Well, I think the fine is unfounded to tell you the truth. When I was working at Seaworld for 35 years, I don’t believe when I was working at Seaworld for 35 years I don’t believe that OSHA has done their homework. For one thing, for them to come out with a statement and say they believe all the trainers should not be doing anything with the killer whales, and that they should be behind barriers is absolutely insane to me. These animals are trained using positive reinforcement. They’re trained by these trainers, who love them. They are the best trained trainers in the world. The criteria for a trainer at Seaworld is so high, for them to come out with a statement and say that they cannot go near the killer whales anymore, all of the killer whales is ridiculous.

KING: Let me bring Ric in. Ric, you’re — I know you’re against places like Seaworld. Do you want them closed?

RIC O’BARRY, FMR. MARINE MAMMAL TRAINER: Well, it’s not that simple. It would be great if they would close, but they would have to get into research into birth control. That’s what they need to do.

Look, this is not an isolated incident. There have been 50 of these violent incidents involving four or five deaths that I know about. And also, 153 orcas have died since 1965. This is a failed experiment. And I want to commend Ms. Simons for speaking out. She deserves a medal for speaking out against this abuse.

KING: All right, Thad, how do you respond to what Linda had to say?

LACINAK: Well, you know, I find it funny that we have someone that works for Seaworld for what did you say a couple weeks or a week before the incident. And then she gets fired. And then she’s all of a sudden a credible witness on TV. That’s what I would question for one thing.

I worked for Seaworld for 35 years. I never saw any of this — any of the accusations that she said. Seaworld cares about their animals. They aren’t going to do things to hurt their trainers. This thing from OSHA is wrong. They should never have put this statement out, recommending that they do not do anything with the killer whales.

KING: Right. Linda–

LACINAK: As far as what Ric is saying about, you know, that all these whales, 150 whales, what about all of the whales that are killed in the wild? There are over 100,000 dolphin killed in the wild every year. And I don’t hear him speaking out against that at all.

O’BARRY: Well, let’s be specific here. We’re talking about orcas right now. And there are no orcas being killed except in captivity.

LACINAK: And there were 50,000 orcas killed by the Russians many years ago. And I don’t hear you saying anything about that.

O’BARRY: Well, we’re working on that. You know, Seaworld made — last year made $1.4 billion. So this $74,000, they make that in a few hours. So that’s like a slap on the wrist.

KING: Linda, how do you react?

LACINAK: Well, it’s actually–

KING: Linda?

LACINAK: –only $6,000 more than what you were fined when you broke the law–

O’BARRY: That was a private lawsuit.

LACINAK: –against the Marine Manage Protection Act.

KING: Okay, Linda–

LACINAK: It was a lawsuit against you, an individual.

O’BARRY: You see, Larry–

KING: Linda, how do you react to what Thad had to say about you and the short time you were there? SIMONS: I am a safety professional with over 20 year’s experience. And my claim is that they were not cooperating with OSHA investigation. I am not claiming anything to do with how the whales were treated. He was a dangerous whale. And Thad knew about the Tillie talk. That is not my claim, though.

My claim is that Seaworld did not cooperate. They blocked documents that were requested from a federal agency because they had damaging information in them. That’s my claim that Seaworld did not cooperate. And because I wanted to cooperate, they terminated me.

KING: We’ll get a break. We’ll come back with more. And Thad will respond to that. But first, this word. Don’t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Thad, Seaworld has barred trainers from being in the water with killer whales since the death. Will they end up back in the water? Should they end up back in the order?

LACINAK: Oh, absolutely, they should end up back in the water. That’s how these animals are taken care of. Not all the killer whales are trained on water work. Yes, Tillicum was not, because of what he had done before he came to Seaworld when he killed that trainer at Victoria Sealand.

But for OSHA to come out with this ruling and not have them or say that they are recommending that nobody goes in the water again is wrong.

You know, as far as what Linda was saying. I don’t know Linda. I have not worked for Seaworld for two years. But some of the comments she made about it being unsafe when they were trying to recover Dawn out of the water, for one thing, when they recovered her body, they had the lifting floor. She neglected to mention that they have a lifting floor in that pool. And they lifted the whale completely out of the water. That’s when the trainers entered the pool area was when the killer whale was lifted completely out of the water. And then they were able to recover Dawn from that incident. There was nothing unsafe about that. It was the only way they could recover Dawn at that time.

SIMONS: Thad, I was there.

LACINAK: That’s her lack of understanding on how and what we would do when and it was an emergency.

KING: Let her respond. All right, Linda.

SIMONS: Thad, I witnessed that. And Tillie was thrashing a lot. He was tossing Dawn around in the pool while he still had her in his mouth. I saw them–

LACINAK: With lifting the floor up? SIMONS: Yes, yes, he was.

LACINAK: He was out of the water and he was stranded?

SIMONS: He was not completely out of the water. There was probably about a foot still there.

LACINAK: Well, that’s not enough room — that’s not enough water for a 12,000-pound killer whale to move around. He can swing from side to side.

KING: Hold it, let me bring Ric in.

LACINAK: But the trainers know how to recover that.

KING: Ric, hasn’t Seaworld had a pretty good safety record over all these years?

O’BARRY: No. They have had a miserable record. There have been — as I say, there have been in this industry 50 violent incidents like this involving at least five deaths that I know about.

LACINAK: Larry, I was at Seaworld for 35 years, not Ric O’Barry. Ric O’Barry was around the world making money off of this so-called animal protection. I was there.

O’BARRY: See, this is what they do, Larry. This is what–

LACINAK: I was there. These animals–

O’BARRY: They send out their attack dogs to go after people’s personality. You know, and they won’t deal with the real issues. The real issues is–

LACINAK: I’m dealing–

O’BARRY: Listen, this animal has already killed three people. You’re suggesting on national television they should allow their trainers back in the water with this animal who has killed three people.

LACINAK: No, I am not suggesting they go back in the water and you know that.

O’BARRY: Which part of killer whale do you not understand?

LACINAK: All of the killer whales that are trained for us to go into the water with and trained for the people at Seaworld to go in water with, the trainers know what the animals they can do water work with. And Tillicum is not one of them. He never has been.

O’BARRY: Which part of killer whale do you not understand? We’re talking about an animal that travels maybe 80 miles a day.

LACINAK: Ric, you have no experience with killer whales–

O’BARRY: Habitat–

LACINAK: –except what you’ve read in a book.

O’BARRY: I trained the first killer whale in captivity in the Eastern United States. Hugo trained I made–

LACINAK: Ric–

O’BARRY: So don’t tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

LACINAK: –you trained for a couple years and you then claimed that your dolphin committed suicide in your arms.

O’BARRY: That’s true.

LACINAK: If I had an animal that committed suicide, I would quit training, too. I’ve trained hundreds of thousands of animals. And I have never had an animal commit suicide after I’ve trained them.

KING: How does an animal commit suicide?

O’BARRY: Yes and 153 have died in captivity. These animals–

KING: Guys, how does an animal commit suicide?

LACINAK: It doesn’t happen, Larry. That’s a made up lie.

O’BARRY: I think it’s quite common. I believe it’s quite common. They’re not automatic air breathers like we are. They can end their life any time they want by not taking the next breath. And I think this happens quite often in captivity.

KING: Oh, okay.

O’BARRY: And you’ll see some of this — I’m sorry.

KING: Maurice, we’re going to see that blood show August 27th. Maurice, is Linda planning — blood dolphins, Maurice, is Linda planning a lawsuit?

ARCADIER: Right now we filed through OSHA, an OSHA retaliation complaint. And it’s now OSHA’s responsibility to investigate that. And that’s the state we’re in.

KING: But no lawsuit? Will there be a lawsuit?

ARCADIER: Well, see, well, Seaworld prevents employees from filing lawsuits because they have an arbitration clause. We have to go through arbitration. And they have all these kinds of confidentialities to keep the media out.

  • Attorney: Maurice Arcadier
  • Status: Close
  • Date Filed: 1 May, 2010