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Tag: lawsuits

Consider yourselves gagged, N.C. citizens


For those businesses in North Carolina that have something to hide, hiding it became much easier this week.

Both the state House and Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill that muzzles whistleblowers who call public attention to anything from agricultural atrocities to elder abuse.

Dubbed an “ag-gag” measure by its critics, the bill gives businesses the right to sue employees who expose trade secrets or take pictures of their workplaces.

Animal rights groups say the measure is aimed at curbing the kind of undercover investigations that have exposed brutal and abusive practices in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

But House Bill 405 (click on the link to see its final version) could curb far more than that.

Nursing home employees might be discouraged from reporting possible abuse cases. Animal shelter staff could be dissuaded from reporting horrid conditions or cruelty to dogs and cats. Even journalists could be hauled into court for simply doing their jobs.

Only government agencies would be safe to shed light on criminal corporate behavior — whether it’s stomping on chickens at poultry farms or mistreating veterans in need of medical care.

Concerns that the bill reaches too far were behind Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of the bill.

The governor said he agreed with curbing the practice of people who get hired merely so they can film undercover or gather corporate documents, but he said the bill doesn’t protect those “honest employees who uncover criminal activity.”

The House voted 79-36 to override his veto, and the Senate quickly followed suit, voting 33-15 to override.

Among those against the bill were animal rights groups, journalism organizations, the Wounded Warrior Project and the AARP, which said the law could have a chilling effect on those who might come forward with evidence of elder abuse.

“To give one relevant example, allegations surfaced last year that employees at Veterans Affairs facilities in North Carolina had been retaliated against for whistleblowing,” wrote Steven Nardizzi, chief executive of the Wounded Warrior Project. “As an organization dedicated to honoring and empowering injured service members, we are concerned that this legislation might cause wrongdoing at hospitals and institutions to go unchecked.”

The sponsors of the house bill said critics were wrongly characterizing it, WRAL reported.

“It doesn’t stop good employees from reporting illegal activities to other authorities,” said Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland.

That much is true. All the bill does is make it easy for large companies and their lawyers to go after those honest employees and ensure that, when they open their mouths, they’ll be stomped on too.

Republican backers of the measure said it was important to protect businesses from bad actors.

As for who’s supposed to protect us from bad-acting businesses engaged in harmful practices, well, that’s not covered in the bill.

“Not only will this ag-gag law perpetuate animal abuse, it endangers workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees, and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply, said Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals. “This law is bad for consumers, who want more, not less, transparency in food production.”

(Photo: Inside a North Carolina poultry plant; by Bethany Hahn / Associated Press)

Pennsylvania pulls license of big puppy dealer

The Pennslyvania Department of Agriculture has revoked the kennel license of CC Pets, a Lancaster County puppy broker with a history of violations under its previous name.

Once known as Puppy Love, the kennel, owned by Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus, has been the subject of investigations and lawsuits for at least 20 years, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

CC Pets sold more than 2,000 puppies last year, making it one of the state’s highest-volume dog dealers.

In 2000, the kennel was fined $35,000 by the state for selling sick puppies and misinforming buyers about the health or breeding qualities of the animals. In 2001, kennel owner Joyce Stoltzfus was cited for practicing veterinary medicine without a license. In 2005, the kennel was the subject of a consumer fraud settlement stemming from a lawsuit filed on behalf of 171 customers in seven states.

One of the agreement’s conditions was that Stoltzfus, had to identify herself and the business correctly to customers rather than use an alias. Her failure to comply with that condition led to the license revocation, officials said.

Unnecessary entanglements

Every once in a while an invention comes along that seems quite brilliant, makes life easier for a while then — with more frequent use — turns out to be more trouble than its worth.

Such, I think, is the case with the retractable leash.

After one brush with death — fortunately not my own — and lots of time spent disentangling other pets and my own, I put my retractable leash away more than a year ago, and haven’t used it since.

I had bought it at the recommendation of a friend, but after several uses, the disadvantages (entanglements, rope burns and the flying hockey puck effect) seemed to outweigh the advantages (giving the dog a wee bit more freedom, having my arm nearly jerked off less often.)

Evidence is mounting that retractable leashes — technically illegal in Baltimore, as they extend more than the mandated 8 foot leash maximum — may not be as good an idea as they originally appeared.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced one recall of retractable leashes. Last September, 223,000 “Slydog” brand retractable leashes were found to have metal clips that broke and flew off — like the one that struck and became lodged in the eye of Dereka Williams, a Dallas-area girl whose family has filed a lawsuit against Worldwise, Inc., the maker of the SlyDog retractable leash.

“She was like, ‘Mom, I can’t see! I can’t see!’” her mother Joy Williams told

Slydog has since fixed the problem and changed to plastic clips.

But according to the March 5, 2009 issue of Consumer Reports, retractable leashes — often banned from many dog events — have been causing ongoing injuries for years.

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