Former Georgia Aquarium trainer files sexual harassment lawsuit

ATLANTA, Ga. — The Georgia Aquarium is one of the biggest family attractions in the southeast, but a lawsuit filed by a former employee claims what goes on away from public view is anything but family-friendly. Erica Zeno was a dolphin trainer, and appeared on the aquarium’s Dolphin Tales show. She insists behind the scenes it’s a very sordid tale. “I grew up wanting to be a dolphin trainer, it was my dream,” Zeno said.

She joined the Dolphin Tales team, training the animals, doing four shows a day and appearing in ads and on billboards. But she claims in a 75-page lawsuit, things quickly turned into a nightmare. “It started off with verbal harassment, in a sexual manner then it escalated to physical touching of my own private body parts then I was forced to touch other people,” she told Channel 2’s Tony Thomas.

Zeno says the sexual harassment was constant between shows and behind the stage of the dolphin exhibit. The lawsuit includes details too explicit to list. “It was pornographic in every sense of the way, all day,” she said. Zeno said she complained every day. Zeno says the bosses she complained to, in many cases, were involved. She was later fired for violating aquarium computer policies. She says they were trumped up charges because she complained

Thomas asked the aquarium leadership for a response. Spokeswoman Meghann Gibbons responded in an email, stating the following:

“Every day Georgia Aquarium strives to be a workplace of choice. We have the utmost appreciation and respect for our team of 2,400 employees and volunteers, all who make the Aquarium’s mission of animal conservation and education a reality. “The Aquarium has rigorously enforced policies and procedures in place so that every individual here feels valued, safe and comfortable, and we prohibit discrimination and harassment of any kind. “Our policies and procedures are clearly communicated and reinforced, and a number of well-defined channels exist for team members to report any and all concerns they may have. “We have thoroughly investigated the plaintiff’s allegations, and we believe the claims she is asserting in her lawsuit to be without merit. The Aquarium will not comment further on the pending lawsuit, as we do not feel it is appropriate to litigate this matter in the media. We look forward to our day in court and our opportunity to vindicate the Aquarium, as well as those individuals whom the plaintiff has accused of wrongdoing.”

Zeno told Thomas she has “no doubt” the harassment is still going on.

“If women like Ms. Zeno don’t stand up and force change, nothing will ever happen,” Zeno’s lawyer Lisa Millican said.

Contact Lisa T. Millican