Lawsuit accuses Hawaii dolphin tour company of violating coronavirus restrictions

Lawsuit accuses Hawaii dolphin tour company of violating coronavirus restrictions
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A former employee sued a Hawaii dolphin tour company, accusing it and its owner of violating coronavirus restrictions, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported on Monday.

In a lawsuit, former Ocean Journeys human resources coordinator Yumi Ishizuka said that the company violated Hawaii’s whistleblower protection law and public policies. 

The company's owner Richard Holland fired Ishizuka after she objected to him disparaging Hawaii's coronavirus restrictions, according to the Star-Advertiser.

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Ishizuka alleges in her lawsuit that Holland tried to circumvent the capacity limits on the company's tour boats, which the state implemented to protect people from COVID-19, and discouraged staff members from wearing masks.

The Star-Advertiser obtained emails Ishizuka and Holland exchanged about the situation. In one, Holland complained to staff about the state restrictions on the number of people allowed on the company's boats, according to the Star-Advertiser. 

“We need to take control of [the] matter and do whatever we have to do to make good common sense of things,” Holland wrote in the email. “I honestly think we should not be cutting ourselves off at 25 [passengers], and we should fudge the numbers and go maybe even up to 40 minimum.”

In another, he reportedly asked staff to come in for a mask-less, in-person meeting.

According to Ishizuka’s attorney Andrew Stewart, the emails between the two escalated as Ocean Journeys employees tested positive for the virus and Ishizuka told other staffers to get tested. The Star-Advertiser reported Holland demoted, then fired Ishizuka on her day off, calling it "unacceptable" that she was spending time with her boyfriend while telling others to quarantine.

Ishizuka emailed back saying she’s been a “cooperative employee” during her time quarantining, the Star-Advertiser reported. 

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“A couple of your employees were sick, whether you believe in COVID or not,” Ishizuka wrote to Holland. “Telling us not to wear masks even though it is mandated in the State of Hawaii is not acceptable as a business owner. You disregard what we think about what we believe in to prevent this from spreading among ourselves and to our loved ones.”

Ishizuka in her lawsuit calls Holland’s behavior “atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.” The lawsuit will seek monetary damages, the Star-Advertiser noted. 

“The way my client was treated was extremely unfair and troubles me as a member of the general public,” Stewart told the Hawaii newspaper.

Ocean Journeys declined to comment.