01/03/2013 2:06PM

Former employee on 'Luck' set sues HBO, humane group


A former employee of a group that supervised the treatment of animals on the set of the canceled HBO production “Luck” has sued the group and the production company, alleging that she was terminated in retaliation for raising concerns about possible animal abuse.

The lawsuit is yet another blow for the series and the industry it portrayed, at a time when animal-rights groups and critics of the sport have increasingly focused on racing and its policies. “Luck,” which starred Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, was canceled in March of 2012 after a third horse being used in the production died as a result of a stable-area accident, drawing the fire of the aggressive, high-profile group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Barbara Casey, a former director of production in the Film and Television Unit of the American Humane Association, filed the suit on Dec. 31 in Superior Court of California seeking lost wages and punitive damages for “wrongful termination” under the state’s whistleblower law. Casey alleges in her complaint that AHA officials conspired with HBO officials – none are named in the suit, which says that Casey is “ignorant of the true names and capacities of those individual and corporate defendants” she is accusing – to cover up abuses of horses, and that she was fired after raising concerns about the practices.

In a statement, HBO defended its treatment of horses during the filming of the show, which was canceled as the show was nearing the broadcast of its final two episodes of the first season. Filming had already begun on the second season.

“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 read. “Barbara Casey was not an employee of HBO, and any questions regarding her employment should be directed to the AHA.”

An AHA spokesperson, Jone Bouman, said on Thursday that association officials have been instructed by legal counsel to decline all comment on the suit, including on the circumstances that led to Casey being fired.

“This is a legal matter, and we’re not able to comment at all,” Bouman said.

According to the suit, Casey was fired on Jan. 3, 2012, approximately 3 ½ months before filming of the series was put on hiatus. During the previous year, the suit says, she supervised AHA employees working on the “Luck” production and worked as a liaison between the producers and the AHA, a non-profit company funded by the television and film production companies to monitor treatment of animals on sets.

The suit says that Casey believed that “underweight and sick horses unsuited for work were routinely used” during the production,” and that producers of the show “intentionally misidentified horses so that the humane officer and/or animal safety representative could not track their medical histories, experience and/or suitability for use.”

In addition, Casey alleged in the complaint that a fourth horse used during production died in the summer of 2011. She said the “AHA told its representatives not to document this horse’s death because he was killed [sic] during a hiatus from filming and therefore ‘did not count.’”

The first two horses that died during filming broke down during the filming of racing scenes and were euthanized. The third, which was not involved in the filming of a scene at the time of its death, reared in the stable area while being led to its stall, striking its head and suffering a fatal blow.