Lawsuit Alleges Wrongful Termination in Connection with HBO's 'Luck'

A former American Humane Association (AHA) employee has filed a lawsuit in California claiming that the organization terminated her after she threatened to expose the alleged inhumane treatment of horses used in the premium television network Home Box Office (HBO) television series "Luck." The AHA establishes animal welfare guidelines and monitors the treatment of animals used in the film industry.

An original HBO series, "Luck" depicted some aspects of the horse racing industry. During filming of the series in 2010 and 2011 two horses were injured and subsequently euthanized. A third horse used in production died in March 2012. In May, based on information provided by a whistleblower, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed complaints with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and with the California Veterinary Medical Board alleging that horses used in the series were maltreated. "Luck" production was subsequently suspended and eventually cancelled.

In a complaint filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles on Dec. 31, 2012, Barbara Casey alleges that she observed the drugging of horses, the use of sick or underweight horses in the filming, and the death of a horse during the filming of a race scene. The complaint further alleges that Home Box Office Inc. and Stewart Productions LLC, named in the suit as "production defendants," engaged in the ongoing, systematic, and unlawful animal abuse and cruelty toward the horses on the set of "Luck." The complaint also alleges that to save time and money and to maintain the series shooting schedule, the production defendants pressured the AHA to violate its safety standards, guidelines, and recommendations.

PETA spokeswoman Wendy Wegner could not confirm whether Casey was the whistleblower who provided information connected to the criminal complaints filed by PETA.

"We had more than a dozen whistleblowers about 'Luck' and we did not know any of their names, so we can't be certain this person was one of them," Wegner said.

In her complaint, Casey claims that she repeatedly complained to the AHA and HBO and Stewart Productions about the animals' care, and that she urged the AHA to "get the police, district attorney, and/or the city attorney involved." The complaint alleges that the producers pressured AHA not to report the alleged abuse. As a result, the AHA instructed Casey "not to report such conduct," according to the complaint. Finally, the complaint alleges that in January 2012, AHA terminated Casey's employment in an effort to prevent her from reporting the alleged horse abuse to criminal authorities.

Jody Frisch, the AHA's national director of public affairs, declined comment.

"American Humane Association is unable to comment on pending litigation," Frisch said.

In a written statement Jeff Cusson, HBO's senior vice president of corporate communications, denied the allegations contained in Casey's lawsuit.

"We took every precaution to ensure that our horses were treated humanely and with the utmost care, exceeding every safeguard of all protocols and guidelines required of the production," the statement said. "Barbara Casey was not an employee of HBO, and any questions regarding her employment should be directed to the AHA."

In the complaint, Casey seeks general and punitive damages as well as legal costs and other considerations.

The case remains pending.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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