Updated at 5 p.m. Oct. 1, 2015
SeaWorld Entertainment paid two of its Texas employees “a large sum of money” for a smartphone video showing former trainer John Hargrove repeatedly using the N-word, according to a new lawsuit.
The Orlando Sentinel, a target of the “Jane Doe” suit, first reported Tuesday on the Sept. 18 complaint filed in Orange County, Texas, district court.
The suit alleges that SeaWorld in 2010 bought a video of a “personal and sensitive” phone conversation between the unidentified Texas woman and her lifelong friend Hargrove, a former Pacific Beach resident when he worked at San Diego SeaWorld.
Hargrove, who became a chief critic via the “Blackfish” documentary and his best-selling book “Beneath the Surface,” has not commented publicly on the suit. SeaWorld critics have said the Orlando-based theme park operator released the video to discredit Hargrove.
But he plans to attend a Long Beach meeting of the California Coastal Commission on San Diego SeaWorld’s request to build “Blue World,” a bigger killer whale facility.
We hope to see our supporters on Oct. 8th in Long Beach CA to educate the coastal commissioners why they should deny SeaWorld’s permit
— John Hargrove (@johnjhargrove) October 1, 2015
SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs declined to comment on specific allegations, such as payment for the video, saying in a statement: “While we do not comment on active litigation, we feel the suit is baseless and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these claims.”
“The Sept. 18 filing contends that SeaWorld employees Jimmy Vera and Bridget Davis recorded the phone conversation without permission,” the Sentinel said. “Vera and Davis then sold the recorded conversation to SeaWorld for ‘a large sum of money, according to the lawsuit.”
The lawsuit says SeaWorld sent the video to the Orlando Sentinel, which posted it online. Other media shared the video, which was posted on YouTube. Also being sued is Awesome Ocean, a pro-SeaWorld site operated by Eric M. Davis, based in Florida. Davis (no relation to Bridget Davis) also launched an associated site called RealJohnHargrove.com.
Hargrove has said both sites are underwritten by SeaWorld.
The suit says SeaWorld used Awesome Ocean as a middleman, which handled the payment to the defendants.
The Sentinel said its editor, Avido Khahaifa, declined to comment on the petition filed by attorney Brian Mazzola of Beaumont, Texas. The original story of March 31, by Sentinel reporter Sandra Pedicini, still carried the video as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
Eric Davis did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His site also carried the video.
“Jane Doe” of Orange, Texas, is listed as plaintiff. The lawsuit says her name has wrongly been made public because she is mentioned by name repeatedly in the conversation.
Jane Doe seeks damages for wiretapping, public disclosure of private information and intentional infliction of emotional damage. A jury trial is sought.
- Related: N-Word Video Sinks Book-Signing by Ex-SeaWorld Trainer
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- Related: SeaWorld Lawyer Warned Author of ‘Beneath the Surface’
Last spring, Warwick’s in La Jolla canceled a book-signing event by Hargrove in the wake of the crude video being released.
Hargrove had been on a promotional tour that included appearances on NPR, CNN and “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.
SeaWorld sent reporters the video, the paper said, and a spokesman said the company received the video during the weekend “from an internal whistle-blower.”
“These are all just personal attacks to try to slander me and my character,” Hargrove was quoted as saying. “This is so typical of SeaWorld. If they’re going to pull up videos and say he was drunk one night and used a derogatory word … these are petty, childish attempts to discredit somebody.”