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After a court hearing Wednesday, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis indicated that she was leaning to dismiss HBO from a lawsuit that contends the network played a role in the firing of an animal-rights advocate.
Barbara Casey, who worked as the director of production in the American Humane Association’s film and television unit, sued her former employer after being terminated after 13 years of service. The straw that broke the horse’s back, she alleged, occurred after she urged the AHA to do more about horse deaths on the canceled HBO series Luck, a horse racing drama starring Dustin Hoffman.
She didn’t just sue the AHA for wrongfully terminating her in violation of public policy. She also attempted to hold HBO as well as Stewart Productions responsible for “aiding and abetting a wrongful termination.”
In response, the production defendants argued there was no such legal claim.
Judge Duffy-Lewis seems to agree, saying that she would do some last-minute homework before coming to a firm conclusion by the end of the week.
The HBO series was canceled after several horses died and groups like PETA raised hell publicly. After the show was put to sleep, the network said it 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.”
In her lawsuit, Casey disagreed with the assessment.
The production companies wanted to save time and money, said the lawsuit, and that rather than cooperate with AHA, HBO and Stewart allegedly pressured the organization to allow them to violate the AHA’s animal safety standards.
When one of the horses named Hometrader died, Casey says she was told by the AHA “not to document [Hometrader’s] death because he was killed during a summer hiatus from filming and therefore did not count.”
Casey even wanted to contact the authorities but allegedly wasn’t allowed to do so by superiors.
The responsibility of the production companies for what happened within AHA’s ranks is a separate issue, argued Jolene Konnersman, attorney for HBO and Stewart.
“The plaintiff has sued two entities she acknowledges were not her employers and which she acknowledges did not make the decision to terminate her,” said Konnersman at the hearing, adding: “One of the defendants, HBO, merely aired the show Luck; they were not involved in the production of the show. The plaintiff is trying to pull in third parties that have nothing to do with her employment.”
Addressing the plaintiff’s aiding and abetting theory, Konnersman further told the judge, “There has been no recognition of such a tort in California law.”
The parties discussed other cases with somewhat similar situations. One — Weinbaum v. Goldfarb — didn’t get very far before it was dismissed on a demurrer.
The same outcome appears very probable in Casey’s claims against HBO and Stewart.
“I was fairly comfortable with my ruling,” said the judge, referring to a tentative one issued prior to the hearing that was going HBO’s way. “But I’ll go back and reread [the defendant’s case citations]. My ruling will likely come out no later than Friday.”
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