ORLANDO, Fla. — SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. on Thursday filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, asking the agency to examine the conduct of an investigator who led the probe into SeaWorld’s safety practices following the death of an Orlando trainer killed by a park killer whale in 2010.
In a complaint lodged with the Labor Department’s Office of the Inspector General, SeaWorld accused U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigator Lara Padgett of leaking confidential company documents to the makers of “Blackfish,” the controversial documentary that is sharply critical of SeaWorld and killer whale captivity.
SeaWorld alleges Padgett shared materials with “Blackfish” producers that she obtained while investigating the Feb. 24, 2010, death of Dawn Brancheau, who was battered and drowned by the 6-ton orca Tilikum.
That investigation led OSHA to charge SeaWorld with “willful” safety violations — its most severe classification — and to recommend that SeaWorld trainers never again be allowed to perform in close, unprotected contact with the giant marine predators. SeaWorld has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
Brancheau’s death is also the subject of “Blackfish,” which contends that abuses in captivity may have led Tilikum to lash out violently against his trainer.
“Blackfish” Associate Producer Tim Zimmermann has said Padgett did not provide the filmmakers with any records or other assistance. “In fact, we repeatedly tried to secure interviews with her, her OSHA supervisor, Les Grove, and OSHA attorney John Black, and were refused each and every time,” Zimmermann said in January.
SeaWorld also accused Padgett of ethical lapses for socializing with the cast and crew of “Blackfish.” Photos surfaced in January of Padgett posing with various “Blackfish” personnel at several movie premieres, including its global premiere in January 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
Padgett has declined to comment on the controversy.