Shelter retaliation against volunteers is illegal, unconstitutional

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a conference on “shelter litigation,” put on by the UCLA Animal Law program. One of the guest speakers for the night was Sheldon Eisenberg, the attorney who successfully sued the L.A. County DACC (Department of Animal Care and Control), on behalf of Cathy Nguyen and Rebecca Arvizu.

I wanted to write an article not only detailing what I learned, but to reinforce what I already knew–and to make unequivocally clear to the shelters (Carson) who troll my website and who fear-monger their own staff and volunteers, that what they are doing is wrong and illegal. They already know this, as they have been sued and were resoundingly defeated in a court of law. But based on their own actions, it seems as though they care not what the results of this lawsuit was, and that they would instead rather carry on the same way as before, as to insinuate that they think no one else will stand up and sue again.

Let it be stated clearly: Section 1983 (42 U.S.C § 1983) applies to anyone who is acting as authority under state law–be it Government, municipalities, police, and certainly city & county animal shelters.

The 1st amendment of the Constitution of the United States gives each and every citizen the freedom of speech, the right to complain, the right to petition and redress i.e. demand abuses are addressed. This right can in no way be trampled on by anyone, let alone by a bureaucrat within a tax-payer funded animal shelter. If a shelter manager claims otherwise, they are LYING. If a “volunteer agreement contract” makes you state that you “shall not talk,” it has no justification under the law to make such a claim. This is a breach of a person’s most fundamental and important right, and if shelter managers are still parading around as if they hold this power, they just haven’t had their bluff called in a court of law. They have no power or claim over this right, end of story, period.

As far as going about “showing an actual injury” if you are considering filing a lawsuit… The “injury” is the loss of a governmental benefit or privilege. This absolutely WILL hold up in court. The fundamental point is that there shouldn’t be any retaliation going on, not arguing over the semantics of what defines an “injury.” People are entitled to the benefit of being a volunteer.

This is the problem… Good, honest and compassionate people are working as shelter volunteers all across this country. That is a fact! Not only that, but many of them enter as staff with those same exact noble personality traits and with totally genuine intentions. It’s only when they get thrown into the belly of the beast, seeing and experiencing the draconian bureaucracy first hand, that 1 of 2 things normally happens: Either 1.) They (knowingly or unknowingly) allow this daily depressing reality to shift and change them as human beings, extinguishing the good qualities that they once held dear and high. They become disengaged and beaten down, desensitized to the realities and then before they know it they are just passively accepting them. Or 2.) They remain kind and good, honest individuals who try to go above and beyond what their job descriptions demand–but find themselves boxed in or constantly shut down by a superior. This then multiplies in scope, as instances pile up and situations are witnessed–and when a volunteer or staff member wants to, or feels it necessary to speak out, they are forced to weigh the real possibility of losing their job. This is done through obvious insinuation, outright and blatant threats, and most notably the given “illusion” by a manager or superior that they actually hold this ability. These people are then, as staff, faced with losing their source of income–and as volunteers, faced with losing their access to the animals that they love and want to help. They wrestle with this, and 99x out of 100 choose to do nothing, due to the fear of retaliation.

Cathy, on the other hand, didn’t let the fear of retaliation deter her from speaking out and voicing her many concerns. This promptly resulted in Marcia Mayeda, in concert with the Carson shelter and on behalf of the entire L.A. County DACC, revoking her pull rights as a rescue partner. This illegal action was swiftly reversed with a lawsuit… So please, let Cathy serve as an example, and as an inspiration to all others going forward.

The tricky part to all of this involves finding an attorney who will actually take cases like these on, and do them for free, as most of us cannot afford lengthy representation. Under 42 U.S.C § 1988 there is a set precedent for awarding attorney’s fees to the prevailing party, so this will be 1 likely route of repayment for concerned attorneys. Another is California Code of Civil Procedure 1021.5. Many attorneys will consider doing pro bono work if they are passionate about the cause, it’s just a matter of finding them…

Lastly, Eisenberg went over what litigation can and cannot do…

What litigation can do?
~Address clear violations (ongoing and systematic conduct)
~Generate attention/publicity « Important, as public and media scrutiny puts pressure on officials to actually do their jobs. This may also develop an incentive to correct any problems, as to avoid further scrutiny.

What litigation cannot do?
~Change shelter management
~Implement effective outside supervision (3rd party monitors)*
~Create No Kill shelters
*This comes into question though, as Carson and the L.A. County DAAC have already been sued–and with that, have agreed upon a settlement with conditions. If they are found to be “not complying” with the demanded changes attached to the prior settlement, that then creates a situation where outside supervision could be argued as necessary… All of this remains to be seen.

My final message to the people whose voices are being suppressed, whose concerns are being silenced, and whose intentions are being met with retaliatory threats: You need to know your rights. You need to take the necessary action if it is required. This is the only way that things will change… Come together, talk amongst each other, do not be bullied into going along with something that you know is not right. This is how oppression stays in place, when good people do nothing.

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

12 Responses so far.

  1. […] speak out. I see the vindictiveness of many of the shelter bosses, or many on the staff, and these realities handcuff good people who genuinely love animals and have immense compassion. If you are a staff […]

  2. […] Animal Society. Not that the shelter staff needs reminding, because they absolutely know, but retaliation against volunteers is unconstitutional. I sincerely hope that those affected do indeed take the appropriate legal […]

  3. […] Shelter retaliation against volunteers is illegal, unconstitutional. Retaliatory Rancho Cucamonga shelter spiraling downward. […]

  4. Tina Robertson says:

    I was fired myself as a shelter volunteer that photographed cats/dogs last July. I spoke up after 8 months in a high kill shelter and witnessing many things, but the final straw was kittens with euth cards who had never been given the courtesy of even a picture or a plea for help. I posted these pics on FB as I did every week but this time titled the album “Faces of Death”. I received alot of support and all of the kittens & cats posted were rescued. I however received the “letter” of suspension 2 days later from the vol coordinator. I went onto do a news story later that week and then things really got crazy at the shelter (audits, negligence and mistreatment investigation, etc). That was in July 2012 and some things have changed at the shelter (Director resigned and a new management company is being sought after),but I’m still not allowed on the property even as a rep for the rescue that I work for which is insane as a taxpayer since it’s a govt funded property. I think that I just might have to follow your lead and pursue legal representation myself. Thank you for posting – you’ve inspired me!!

  5. christine says:

    This exact same thing is happening in San Antonio….it is sad..volunteers are being forced to sign a silence agreement or their volunteer status is being revoked or denied….there is horrible abuse, and torture going on here at the Brooks city base shelter…it is closed to the public and the dogs are never even put on a website letting their owners know where to look for them. These dogs die without a chance of rescue….the Shelter is not allowing some rescues to pull animals because they Talk bad about the shelter on their FB pages…..if the city did their job….there would be no reason to inform the public of the atrocities going on there…….we seriously need help here…..the media sits in our mayor’s pocket….lies about live release numbers….not assigning A#’s to some dogs at Brooks just to make the live release numbers look better…this is just sad and enough is enough!!!!! Please help us go to Brooks Babies ARF FB page and join the fight here…..thank you!!!

    • patra m says:

      This is EXACTLY what is occurring at Brooks in San Antonio Texas at the Brooks warehouse kill-shelter, ACS ( Animal Care Services) the entity in charge of Brooks is violating the First Amendment Rights of its volunteers and NOT allowing those who will not sign their gag order to volunteer, and demanding that those who even go to Brooks to see a dog sign a paper that they are “affiliated with Brooks: . I KNOW this first-hand as it was 3 times asked of me and I was told I had to sign-in that way. I refused because I am a voting-resident citizen of San Antonio and they need to know nothing more.

    • Anne Boleyn says:

      I do not see how any place can force a signature of silence? I can see privacy of info. such as donations. But I do think I would sign and then carry on doing that which I know to be right. If they are going to throw you out any ways then get the facts and get the word out. I would head for all Politian’s and media I could. Hell posters up on power poles. Putting these people out in the open makes them squirm. Proving such low down sickness as many by the sounds of it have impossible to ignore. Hell go in with personal recording devices. Spread the word in your community. Even people that are not so much into dogs really do get upset at sheer sickness. So very sad to hear of all of these cases. Shame them, make them squirm in their own crap.



    san bernardino CA is killing everything in sight as retaliation . shelter is 1/2 full. please do something!!!!!!

  7. Linda McKinney says:

    I wish the word got out more, I have to wonder what my towns shelter is doing, I think ill do some looking and will report back


    We need to find a successful way to keep the scum out there from abusing animals and being so cruel! Obviously, they realize they are wrong or they wouldn’t ask rescuers to sign a gag agreement! If they’re so brave and think they’re right why do they hide their cruel behavior? They don’t belong in the shelter environment and must be stopped! They’re sick sociopaths and take their anger out on the poor animals! We definitely need some reform!

  9. MicheleCostello says:

    FCDS needs to nominted. Directore fired, assistaant directore doing a horiblle job, demotivataing workers, Dr. Morton a bully to crew, still mistreating animals and crew.

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