SeaWorld has filed a complaint alleging that an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigator who probed a SeaWorld trainer’s death engaged in unethical conduct by fraternizing with makers of a documentary critical of the park.
The six-page complaint to the Labor Department states that SeaWorld believes that OSHA investigator Lara Padgett “violated the Standards of Ethical Conduct for government employees…as well as other requirements of federal law.”
“We believe that this conduct demonstrates that she was influenced by improper considerations, and failed to bring the appropriate objectivity, in the investigation of the death of whale trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld of Florida,” the complaint says. “We believe that this continues to influence her ongoing enforcement efforts with regard to SeaWorld.”
Padgett investigated the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Brancheau was pulled into a pool by 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum and drowned.
The complaint also includes what it says are examples of Padgett’s violations of federal statute, such as posting critical comments about SeaWorld on social media and pictures of her attending film festivals with makers of the 2013 “Blackfish” documentary.
“Blackfish” explores what may have caused Tilikum to kill Brancheau, a veteran SeaWorld trainer.
The OSHA compliance officer “may have acted with a different agenda, one that is sympathetic to animal rights activism,” SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs wrote in an email statement to The Associated Press.
In its complaint SeaWorld also said that it has obtained evidence that Padgett disclosed confidential SeaWorld documents as well as documents submitted in conjunction with a confidential medication before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.’
OSHA said in December that it was looking into reports that Padgett, who helped investigate Brancheau’s death, had fraternized with the makers of “Blackfish” at film festivals around the nation.
The director of the “Blackfish” documentary denies that the OSHA investigator provided filmmakers with confidential documents.
In a statement to The Associated Press, “Blackfish” director Gabriela Cowperthwaite said that Padgett wasn’t part of its production and that she, “along with her OSHA colleagues, declined repeated requests to participate in Blackfish.”
Cowperthwaite said she’s “looking forward to a day when SeaWorld honestly and transparently addresses animal welfare and trainer safety.”
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