SeaWorld will likely press Judge to have Closed Hearings
It is anticipated that an Orlando Judge will be asked to sign a “Protective Order” for an upcoming SeaWorld vs. OSHA hearing, effectively sealing off the details of this high profile case forever. The proceedings before Judge Ken S. Welsch, originally scheduled to begin Monday, February 14, 2011 have been rescheduled to April 25, 2011, in Orlando, FL. SeaWorld is contesting OSHA citations issued in August, including a finding for the “Willful” act of knowingly placing its employees at risk, following an investigation into the tragic death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau.
In the past, SeaWorld has been successful at maintaining a cloak of secrecy in cases regarding employee injuries, akin to the crippling of trainer John Sillick in 1987, and it’s expected they will try to follow the same path after the death of their veteran orca trainer nearly one year ago.
If an order is issued by the Judge, it could bar the public from participating in the hearing and seal all content, including expert witness testimony from both sides and the documentation and evidence describing the suboptimal conditions associated with orca (killer whale) captivity. If the attempt to seal is successful, expert witnesses who participate in this trial would not be allowed to discuss or write anything about it publicly. It will also prevent content from being used for future litigation or investigation… essentially closing the details from public view and scrutiny forever.
On August 23, 2010 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations to SeaWorld for apparently placing profit above employee safety. OSHA fined SeaWorld Orlando $75,000 for safety violations including the maximum $70,000 penalty for the “Willful” act of knowingly placing its employees at risk, a charge that has major implications beyond the monetary value, which is not substantial for the multi-billion dollar marine park. The stunning announcement of the “Willful” charge triggered a flurry of claims and opened the floodgates for further legal action by Dawn’s family, terminated employees and witnesses. It has also sparked a growing number of former SeaWorld employees to speak out about the culture of working with orcas and the secrecy that shrouds the marine mammal entertainment industry.
SeaWorld’s appeal of the August OSHA ruling prompted the upcoming hearing:
“SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA today and have already informed the agency that we will contest this citation,” the company said in a written statement. “OSHA’s allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care.”
Yet, even with SeaWorld’s assertions of no wrong-doing, it is anticipated they will seek to keep all evidence out of public view while they “contest the unfounded allegations”.
This is a call for action. Do you think these hearings should be open, or closed? Let us know what you think and be sure to check back with us to see who you can contact to keep the pressure on keeping these hearings open (see below). We will keep you updated as the story unfolds.
Most Honorable Secretary of Labor
Hilda L. Solis
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
Re: OSHA vs. SeaWorld Order
I respectfully request that you use whatever means within your power to allow the public to hear the details of the investigation into the tragic death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld of Florida on 24 February 2010.
It is anticipated that Judge Ken S. Welsch will be asked to sign a Protective Order for the hearing scheduled to begin 25 April 2011 in Orlando, FL effectively sealing all content and expert witness testimony, as well as descriptions of the suboptimal conditions associated with orca captivity. If successful, witnesses will be forever barred from discussing or writing anything about the case publicly, preventing any and all content from being used for future litigation or investigation, akin to the crippling of trainer John Sillick in 1987.
The family of the victim should be vindicated and the public has the right to know, as details of this case have a direct effect on the future of workplace safety at marine mammal parks.
You may also visit the following site at Change.org to sign a petition here: http://www.change.org/petitions/seaworld-stop-pressuring-osha-to-have-closed-hearings
You can read more about this story by visiting :
Hearing on SeaWorld Trainer’s Death: Keep it Open to the Public- by David Kirby~ Huffington Post
Will SeaWorld hearing be closed to the public?- CFNews 13 Orlando