FAIRFIELD, Calif. (CN) - Two top directors of animal care claim in court that Six Flags fired and defamed them for blowing the whistle on its inadequate care of animals.
Michael Muraco had been director of animal care at the Six Flags theme park in Vallejo since 2007 when he was fired in November last year. His wife Holley Muraco had been its zoological reproduction physiologist since 2012. She was fired in February this year, they say in their Oct. 14 lawsuit in Solano County Court.
The Muracos say they told management repeatedly that crumbling infrastructure, poor water quality, improper diets, overmedication, improper surgical procedures, abusive training techniques, insufficient salt in the tanks and other compliance issues were endangering the health of the animals, and in some cases endangering employees and the public.
When two baby dolphins died at the park last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that poor water quality was a factor in the deaths, the Muracos say.
Michael Muraco says he told federal investigators there were problems in the avian and terrestrial facilities as well. For example, "a badly damaged elephant enclosure was not repaired until an elephant was caught climbing over the enclosure on a crowded day," according to the complaint.
Six Flags denied all of the claims.
"We provide excellent care for all of our animals. The lawsuit is without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves," Six Flags spokeswoman Nancy Chan said.
Things apparently got nasty during the federal investigation. The Muracos claim that , to retaliate for their complaints of inadequate veterinary care, two Six Flags veterinarians, defendants Diana Proctor and Vanessa Fravel, told investigators that Holley was doing research without a permit. Holley Muraco says it was determined that no permit was needed because her research was not invasive, but her reputation was damaged.
The Muracos say the USDA cited Six Flags for many of the issues they had raised, but when Michael asked for resources to address it, he was told that nothing could be done until the USDA appeal was final.
The Muracos claim the final defendant, Six Flags employee Sam Dover, told co-workers that they were the reason the dolphins had died, and they would be fired for it.
"Less than a month after Michael Muraco took a stand to protect the animals, he was terminated from his position as director of animal care," the complaint states.
Then Six Flags cut off Holley's 5-year research contract, with two years remaining, and fired her.
The Muracos seek lost wages and punitive damages for Labor Code violations, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful firing.
They are represented by J. Gary Gwilliam with Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer, of Oakland.