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Wrongful termination suit claims mistreatment of horses in 'Luck'

Being a whistleblower is not easy, especially when attempting to protect those without a voice. A former employee of the American Humane Association claims she was wrongfully terminated from the Association after she complained about alleged inhumane treatment of horses in the HBO production of "Luck." The employee claims she threatened to expose the poor treatment of the animals to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and that is why the AHA terminated her.

The AHA is responsible for establishing guidelines and monitoring the treatment and welfare of animals used in the film and television industries. The short lived HBO series featured some of the goings on in the horse racing industry. Filming for the series took place in 2010 and 2011 and two of the horses used during filming were injured and had to be euthanized. A third horse used in the series' production died in March of last year. Production was suspended after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed complaints with local and state authorities.

PETA filed complaints with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office as well as the California Veterinary Medical Board after receiving several tips from more than a dozen anonymous whistleblowers about the series. The AHA employee claims in her complaint that she witnessed horses being drugged, the use of underweight and sick horses during filming and the death of a horse during the filming of horse racing scene.

The woman's complaint states that the "production defendants," HBO and Stewart Productions LLC, were involved in ongoing, systematic and unlawful abuse of animals during production of the series. Her complaint also claims the production defendants pressured the AHA to not report the abuse claims in violation of its safety guidelines and standards, all in an effort to save time and money and stay on schedule with its production.

The employee claims that AHA then told her not to report the alleged abuse and ultimately terminated her to try and prevent her from reporting the violations to the authorities. She is seeking general and punitive damages, attorney fees and considerations, according to her complaint. Employees who report safety violations and other such issues to supervisors can be subjected to adverse treatment by their employers. Employees do however have rights and retaliating against an employee for reporting violations is against the law.

Source: The Horse, "Lawsuit Alleges Wrongful Termination in Connection with HBO's 'Luck'" Pat Raia, Jan. 4, 2013

Our California employment law firm handles a wide array of employment issues, including discrimination, whistleblower and retaliation claims and wrongful termination.

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