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Lawsuit: Dolphin tour company tried to skirt virus rules

July 5, 2021 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii dolphin tour company discouraged workers from complying with COVID-19 safety laws, a former employee alleged in a lawsuit.

Yumi Ishizuka said in the lawsuit the owner of Ocean Journeys, which operates Dolphins and You, sought to skirt lowered capacity limits on boat tours, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

Ishizuka said she was fired as human resources coordinator for Ocean Journeys as retaliation for urging compliance with social distancing and mask rules.

Owner Richard Holland didn’t immediately return a message from The Associated Press left at a phone number for Dolphins and You. Its website says the company operates tours under “And You Creations,” which Holland started “to share the life-changing experience of swimming with wild dolphins with Hawaii’s visitors.”

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The website also said the company implemented COVID-19 safety protocols, including reduced boat capacity to allow for social distancing during tours, frequent sanitation, temperature checks of staff and masks when indoors.

According to the lawsuit, Holland sent an email to staff complaining about state restrictions on the number of people allowed on boats. At the time, the state had limited the occupancy on commercial, recreational boats to 25% of maximum occupancy.

“We need to take control of (the) matter and do whatever we have to do to make good common sense of things,” Holland wrote. “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.”

He encouraged staff not to wear masks and wrote that those who showed up for an in-person meeting would be given “envelopes.” That email implied monetary reward for meeting in person without masks, said Andrew Stewart, an attorney for Ishizuka.

“A couple of your employees were sick, whether you believe in COVID or not,” she 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.”

He fired her in an email, the newspaper reported.