SeaQuest accused of trying to silence former employee

SeaQuest accused of trying to silence former employee

SeaQuest accused of trying to silence former employee

Lawyers representing a former employee of SeaQuest say the company is unlawfully trying to silence those who criticize the controversial chain of interactive aquariums and petting zoos.

The case returned to an Idaho courtroom on Wednesday afternoon, as lawyers for Lana Westbrook asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by SeaQuest against Westbrook, a former marketing coordinator for the company.

SeaQuest accuses Westbrook of violating a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) she signed when she was hired in 2019.

She worked for the company for less than a year, but it sued Westbrook last September, citing her public criticism of SeaQuest on various social media platforms. It also accused Westbrook of providing information to ABC News for a national investigation of SeaQuest in partnership with 5 INVESTIGATES.

Westbrook’s attorneys deny the allegations and point out that she never appeared in the national reports that aired on ABC News in February.

Other former employees of SeaQuest in Roseville agreed to speak with 5 INVESTIGATES on the condition of anonymity. Some of them specifically expressed concern about possible retribution from the company because they signed NDAs.

“The problem is that SeaQuest has prioritized profits over people and animals and that’s what’s resulted in the bad press, nothing that Ms. Westbrook has done,” said Steffen Seitz, an attorney for the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project who is representing Westbrook.

In court Wednesday afternoon, Seitz argued the legal action taken by SeaQuest is an unlawful strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), which the company denies.

“I think SeaQuest is desperate,” Seitz said. “I think that over the years, the bad press, discontent from former employees, violations of state and federal laws — these things have added up, and so they’re desperate to do whatever they can to intimidate anyone else from speaking out further.”

SeaQuest did not immediately respond to a request for comment from 5 INVESTIGATES on Wednesday, but in court, the company’s lawyer denied that SeaQuest attempted to “chill” Westbrook’s First Amendment rights. 

“Never once is there an allegation that Ms. Westbrook is being sued for engaging in First Amendment activities,” said Jaxon Munns, an attorney for SeaQuest Holdings.

Judge James Cawthon ultimately denied Westbrook’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit against her but acknowledged he would have to consider the arguments from both sides again as the case moves forward this summer.