Add another twist to the case involving the death of a SeaWorld Orlando employee who was pulled underwater by a killer whale. Now OSHA is reviewing allegations against the inspector who led the investigation that resulted in fines for the animal park.
This latest chapter unfolded earlier this month when photos of OSHA inspector Lara Padgett on a theme-park industry website showed her socializing with the cast and crew of Blackfish, a documentary critical of SeaWorld’s treatment of the killer whales.
Micechat.com posted two photos of Padgett. Among the people posing with the OSHA inspector: Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. One of the photos was taken a year ago at the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
“Allegations involving employee conduct are taken seriously and OSHA is investigating,” an agency spokesman told the Orlando Sentinel.
Blackfish Associate Producer Tim Zimmerman said, “We repeatedly tried to secure interviews with her (Padgett), her OSHA supervisor, Les Grove, and OSHA attorney, John Black, and were refused each and every time.” Zimmerman says the Padgett didn’t provide any documents to the filmmakers.
In a statement regarding Padgett, SeaWorld reiterated its stance that Blackfish “relies on the accounts of people who are animal activists, and are anything but objective in their view. Ms. Padgett appears to be one of them.”
OSHA issued willful violations to SeaWorld Orlando in connection with trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death on Feb. 24, 2010. OSHA also recommended SeaWorld trainers never again have close, unprotected contact with killer whales.
SeaWorld argues it’s taking steps to protect the trainers, but OSHA’s recommendation isn’t necessary. The animal park resumed killer whale performances for the public about a year after Brancheau’s death.
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld the violations. SeaWorld has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. A decision from that court could be delivered any time now.