San Diego Zoo Accused|of Wrongful Firing

SAN DIEGO (CN) – The San Diego Zoo fired its safety manager for doing his job: reporting safety violations and cooperating with Cal/OSHA, he claims in court.
     John Liken says the zoo hired him as a part-time compliance officer in 2004, made him full time in 2006, and promoted him to environmental, health and safety manager on Jan. 3, 2011. In that job, he “was ultimately responsible the health and safety of defendant’s employees and guests,” he says in the July 8 complaint in Superior Court.
     When the zoo opened a “Monkey Trails Exhibit” in 2005, Liken says, the zoo’s chief operations officer refused to let him see it until it had been opened to the public. He says the COO was “furious” when he told him about safety hazards in the exhibit.
     Liken says he participated in two OSHA investigations in 2011 after zookeepers were injured at the zoo and the Wild Animal Park, both of which resulted in citations and fines.
     He says that in late 2011 or early 2012, Cal/OSHA sent a speaker to talk to upper management about safety, and that after the speaker left the zoo’s director of risk management told him that the zoo would never invite an OSHA consultant, as the speaker suggested, “because it could present ‘problems’ if they discover health and safety violations.”
     After an upper level management meeting in February 2013, “specifically about the hazards in the gorilla exhibit,” Liken says, the COO told him that he was “‘never permitted to contact an outside agency like this, ever again,’ or words to that effect.”
     The COO then started at him and “sternly asked him, ‘Do you understand what I just told you?'” Liken says in the complaint.
     From then on, he says, management treated him with hostility and he was told that he “would not be getting any promotions.”
     He was fired on Feb. 20 this year, Liken says.
     He seeks lost wages and damages for wrongful firing, retaliation, overtime violations, other Labor Code violations and emotional distress.
     He is represented by Joshua Gruenberg, who declined to comment.
     The San Diego Zoo did not reply to a request for comment.

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