Former American Humane Association employee blows the whistle on an alleged attempt by show producers to pressure animal monitoring organization to look the other way.
One of television’s strangest sagas in 2012 was the March cancellation of HBO’s Luck after the horse racing drama starring Dustin Hoffman was attacked over the treatment of animals on set.
The saga isn’t quite over.
Barbara Casey, who worked as the director of production in the American Humane Association’s film and television unit, has filed a lawsuit against her former employer and HBO. Casey says she worked for AHA for 13 years and is suing the organization for allegedly wrongfully terminating her in January 2012. She’s also suing HBO and Luck producer Stewart Productions for aiding and abetting an alleged abuse cover-up months before the series was put to sleep.
According to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Casey says the AHA observed drugged horses, underweight and/or sick horses routinely used for work on the show, the misidentification of horses by producers so that animal safety reps couldn’t track their medical histories and more.
Casey says HBO and Stewart Productions wanted to save time and money and that rather than cooperate with AHA, the production companies pressured the organization to allow them to violate the AHA’s animal safety standards.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO says: “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. Barbara Casey was not an employee of HBO, and any questions regarding her employment should be directed to the AHA.”
The AHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The AHA — which holds a trademark on the “No animals were harmed” phrase — allegedly went along with the producers over Casey’s objections and her desire to contact law enforcement authorities.
“AHA bowed to political and financial pressure and refused to report the Production Defendants’ conduct to the authorities,” Casey alleges in the suit. “AHA instructed Plaintiff not to report such conduct. AHA engaged in efforts to conceal and cover up the production defendants’ criminal activities.”
Eventually, the series was canceled after several horses died — the complaint reports four deaths — and after PETA spoke out in protest.
During the controversy, HBO said it had been working closely with the American Humane Association to implement safety protocols that go “above and beyond” typical film TV industry standards and practices. But Casey says that HBO didn’t make the job easy for the AHA.
“The production defendants intentionally misidentified horses so that the humane officers and/or animal safety representatives could not track their medical histories,” says the lawsuit.
Casey adds that after a horse named Hometrader died, the AHA actively interfered with efforts to rectify the situation. According to the complaint, “AHA told its representatives not to document [Hometrader’s] death because he was killed during a summer hiatus from filming and therefore did not count.”
Casey claims that it was unlawful to terminate her and retaliate against her for an attempt to report criminal activity. She is represented by attorney Howard Rutten and is seeking general and punitive damages.
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