Hitting a Gift Horse in the Mouth?

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EmpBlog-1.30.2013-HittingaGiftHorseintheMouthA former employee of the American Humane Association (AHA), Barbara Casey, has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was wrongfully terminated after complaining that some of the animals on the HBO show “Luck” were abused during the filming process. Casey was the director of the AHA Film and Production Unit and oversaw the conditions for animals on the television show’s set. She alleges that many of the horses were “drugged, underweight and sick” throughout the show’s production. The lawsuit also alleges claims against HBO and the producers of the series for aiding and abetting a cover-up of the alleged abuse.

Since it was introduced to audiences, the television show was the center of controversy. At least three of the horses died while on the set, which the lawsuit alleges was due to the abuse the animals sustained in order to perform properly. The lawsuit also stated the producers were aware of the abuse, but found loopholes in avoiding compliance with the AHA in order to save time and money.

Among other things, the lawsuit alleges: “AHA bowed to political and financial pressure and refused to report the Production Defendants’ conduct to the authorities. AHA instructed Plaintiff not to report such conduct. AHA engaged in efforts to conceal and cover up the Production Defendants’ criminal activities.”

According to Vanity Fair, the show was cancelled after three horses were fatally injured on set. The third horse’s death sparked media attention after she “reared, flipped over backwards and struck her head on the ground,” which caused the horse to die.

The former employee’s lawsuit also alleges that HBO attempted to cover up a fourth horse’s death, which occurred during a summer hiatus. She contends the producers of the show misidentified the horses so none of their medical histories could be tracked.

The lawsuit serves as a gruesome reminder that disclosures to law or government enforcement agencies, including those involving the use of animals during filming, are protected activities under Labor Code section 1102.5. Employers may not retaliate against employees for making such disclosures, nor make rules to prevent such disclosures, nor otherwise retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in an activity which would result in a violation of law.

This blog is presented under protest by the law firm of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP.  It is essentially the random thoughts and opinions of someone who lives in the trenches of the war that often is employment law–he/she may well be a little shell-shocked.  So if you are thinking “woohoo, I just landed some free legal advice that will fix all my problems!”, think again.  This is commentary people, a sketchy overview of some current legal issue with a dose of humor, but commentary nonetheless; as if Dennis Miller were a lawyer…and still mildly amusing.  No legal advice here; you would have to pay real US currency for that (unless you are my mom, and even then there are limits).  But feel free to contact us with your questions and comments—who knows, we might even answer you.  And if you want to spread this stuff around, feel free to do so, but please keep it in its present form (‘cause you can’t mess with this kind of poetry).  Big news: Copyright 2013.  All rights reserved; yep, all of them.

If you have any questions regarding this blog or your life in general, contact Kelly O. Scott, Esq. (who else would you contact?), commander in chief of this blog and Head Honcho (official legal title) of ECJ’s Employment Law Department, at (310) 281-6348 or kscott@ecjlaw.com.