For the first time, HBO has responded in court to former American Humane Association employee Barbara Casey, who was allegedly fired from her job after objecting to the way horses were treated on the TV series Luck.
Casey was the director of production in the AHA's film and television unit, and in January, she filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court. She claimed her ex-employer had wrongfully terminating her and that HBO and Stewart Productions had aided and abetted a cover-up months before the series starring Dustin Hoffman was canceled.
Aiding and abetting a wrongful termination?
HBO says there is no such thing.
According to a demurrer that was filed by the production companies last week, California law doesn't recognize a claim against a non-employer in the context where the termination was supposedly wrongful because it went against public policy.
As HBO papers lay out, "Because the Production Defendants were not Plaintiff's employer, they cannot be bootstrapped into liability for the allegedly wrongful termination under a theory of 'aiding and abetting' in that termination."
In her lawsuit, Casey says the AHA observed mistreated horses. Casey was interested in reporting the alleged wrong-doings to the authorities but says she was instructed not to by her superiors at AHA. She alleges the production companies pressured the organization to allow them to violate the AHA's animal safety standards.
When Casey's lawsuit was filed, HBO said that it "took every precaution to ensure that our horses were treated humanely."
Now comes the legal response that takes issue with the plaintiff's attempt to drag the production companies into a battle between Casey and the AHA on an "aiding and abetting" charge. HBO's lawyer says there's been only one case (Weinbaum v. Goldfarb) that has ever attempted to make such a claim against a third party for a conspiracy to wrongfully terminate, and in 1996, a California appeals court affirmed a dismissal.
"To the extent Plaintiff is asking this Court to create a new cause of action, that invitation should be declined," say the production defendants.
Even if Casey's claim is deemed to be within the bounds of law, HBO says that she hasn't made specific enough allegations of fact to hold it liable.
According to the latest court papers (with defendants emphasis), "The (First Amended Complaint does not allege who at HBO or Stewart allegedly engaged in tortious behavor and what authority those persons had to act on behalf of either of them, what advice HBO or Stewart allegedly provided to the AHA relating to Plaintiff's termination, how HBO or Stewart allegedly 'encouraged' or 'assisted' the AHA in terminating Plaintiff, or what sort of 'moral support' HBO or Stewart allegedly provided to the AHA."
HBO and Stewart are represented by Jolene Konnersman at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.
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