Disney fires, then rehires, intern who shared alligator directive

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Weeks after a toddler was dragged into the water and killed at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, a Disney manager posted this sign for its employees and interns:

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As reported by Travis M. Andrews for the Washington Post, Disney college intern Shannon Sullivan faced a crisis of conscience: “Sullivan thought the world should know, both about potential threats and about the company asking her and her colleagues to deny them.”

She shared her objections with others, though the story does not explain how she did so. Apparently stymied, she posted the picture above on Twitter, realizing that she was jeopardizing her place in a highly sought-after internship program.

Her supervisor soon learned of her tweet. Sullivan was fired from her internship and led off the premises.

When the Orlando Sentinel became aware of Sullivan’s termination, it contacted Disney management for comments. Andrews reports on what happened next:

The next morning, Magic Kingdom Vice President Dan Cockerell visited Sullivan himself to offer her internship back, which she accepted.

Disney removed the offending sign, claiming it was never authorized, the Associated Press reported.

So how about some lessons from this little story?

First, bravo to Shannon Sullivan for her courageous decision to speak out. True, we don’t know how she effectively expressed her concerns within the organization before going public with her tweet. Nevertheless, she was willing to sacrifice a plum internship for the sake of honoring her sense of right and wrong.

Second, a jeer and a partial nod to Disney for its handling of the situation. Clearly some manager at Magic Kingdom screwed up badly by posting a sign that valued superficial customer relations over guest safety. But at least a Disney exec, after the company was contacted by a newspaper, made the right decision and handled it personally.

Third, kudos to the Orlando Sentinel for showing us once again the power of the press. It’s not the biggest story to hit the media, but it’s important enough to get some coverage.

3 responses

  1. Having worked for the Disney Company for 13 years, I am not surprised at all. The sign looks like something a manager would put up. it was definitely not made by a cast member. My daughter worked in Florida as an “intern” for 3 semesters. These internships are really just jobs that any high school or college kid can do and they call it an internship. They can avoid hiring permanent people and paying benefits. They also put these “interns” in their own Disney Corporate housing where they share rooms with 6 others and pay Disney the rent from their “internship” just like the modern day company store. My guess in reading this is, the “highly coveted internship” was the typical abused college kid and they are definitely expendable. The only reason she came back was the Company was already on the hot seat and wanted to avoid any further publicity.

  2. While I’ve never worked for DIsney, we are vacation club members and have taken numerous trips to DisneyWorld in Florida. My husband is fascinated with their business practices, and we’re well aware that Disney guests are never supposed to see the unpleasant side of their management practices. While we were staying at the Animal Kingdom lodge one year, we actually witnessed a manager quietly bully a subordinate who was running about 5 minutes late and had the top button of her uniform shirt unbuttoned. I remember she was driving a shuttle van to take guests between the Animal Kingdom hotels, and the bus was just a few minutes late. She apologized to the manager for being late, and he looked down at her and said something like, “Don’t let it happen again, and you better get your uniform in order.” He said it quietly, but it was loud enough for us to hear it. We were very surprised to overhear it, since apparently that type of discipline is not supposed to happen in front of resort guests. We felt really bad for her after it happened.

  3. Whistle blowers need to learn that the “reward” for acting ethically is normally punishment. To expect appreciation is not realistic and it’s less traumatic to go into it expecting retribution (and if there isn’t any, it can be a nice relief).

    On the upside, anybody with the courage to speak up against hypocrisy, fraud, and abuse, gets to join an elite group, one that Jesus belonged to. Remember in the Bible where Jesus called the religious leaders “hypocrites,” “snakes,” and “sons of vipers!” Ouch. No wonder they killed him (that was the downside).

    In the end, there’s either the pain of guilt or the pain of retribution, but there’s no escaping the pain. It seems as if most of us most of the time choose guilt pain, but people like Shannon Sullivan, who chose the retribution pain, are the ones who change the world.

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