A former Sea World staffer, who says she was fired after 45 years, is suing the company for alleged age discrimination and decades of unpaid overtime

A former Sea World staffer, who says she was fired after 45 years, is suing the company for alleged age discrimination and decades of unpaid overtime

A sign for Sea World with jumping orca surrounded by green grass

A Sea World staffer accused the company of firing her without cause after 45 years. John Raoux/AP Photo

  • A former Sea World employee who was fired after 45 years filed a lawsuit against the theme park.

  • Shari Sehlhorst alleged the company hadn’t properly paid overtime during decades of employment.

  • Sea World did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

A woman who worked at Sea World in San Diego for 45 years has accused the company of firing her without cause. She’s suing over what she alleges are years of unpaid overtime.

Shari Sehlhorst said in a lawsuit filed in US District Court in California that she started working at Sea World in 1976 as an admission and ride attendant. After holding several other roles, she joined the Environmental, Health & Safety Department in 1997. Her last title was environmental leader.

But Sehlhorst claimed in her lawsuit that Sea World fired her in October “due to ‘restructuring.'” She alleged that this reason was untrue. Her complaint also alleged that she had raised issues about environmental concerns at the park in the days and weeks prior to her termination.

Sea World hired a woman “in her mid-20s” to replace Sehlhorst at a lower rate of pay, the complaint said.

Sehlhorst in her complaint accused Sea World of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, California Labor Code, and the Age Discrimination clause of the California Fair Employment & Housing Act. She also alleged the company hadn’t properly paid her for overtime and work she did during lunch breaks.

“She worked six-seven days per week and averaged between 10-14 hours per day. Shari worked, on average, approximately 32 hours of overtime each week,” the complaint said.

The complaint also accused the company of failing to keep accurate time records, stating that the “defendant knew Shari worked overtime without proper compensation,” and the company “willfully failed and refused to pay her overtime wages at the required rates.”

Sea World did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Sea World in early November filed a motion seeking to move the case into arbitration, rather than the courtroom. Sehlhorst and her lawyers “do not agree” that the case should be moved to arbitration, according to a court filing.

On Tuesday, the court set a hearing on the arbitration motion for January 31, 2022. In a joint filing on Tuesday, Sea World and Sehlhorst agreed to pause the timeline for discovery until that hearing.

Sehlhorst’s complaint laid out the months prior to her termination.

In September, she strained muscles and tendons in her neck while lifting something, then was placed on “modified duty,” the complaint alleged.

In October, she warned co-workers not to hose down a pathway, because the dirty water would drain into nearby Mission Bay, and then she notified management when the co-workers hosed the pathway down anyway, the complaint said. About a week later, she got the news that the company was “restructuring,” the complaint alleged.

Sehlhorst filed her lawsuit with her husband, Dan Sehlhorst, as a co-plaintiff. The lawsuit claims Dan, another Sea World employee, who was furloughed during the pandemic, wasn’t rehired because his wife had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The court complaint also said that Dan was told he’d be able to return to work, but after his wife’s complaint he was told he “was not being considered for the project manager position even though he was qualified for it and performed the same position.”

It alleged Shari’s EEOC filing was “substantial motivating reasons” for the company’s decision not to rehire Dan.

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