Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Judge Rules That Animal Facilities Cannot Silence Volunteers
A judge's ruling in Maryland may make some animal control facilities and shelters think twice about a seldom-discussed policy — forcing volunteers and would-be rescuers to remain silent about any problems they witness.
The case involves a Virginia-based rescue, Fancy Cats, whose volunteers were banned from rescuing animals after an email was distributed in 2013 that was critical of the Baltimore County Animal Services' Baldwin shelter. The rescue was banned, and then sued, claiming its volunteers' freedom of speech rights were being denied.
Maryland U.S. District Judge James Bredar agreed. Last week he ruled that the "opportunity to serve as a volunteer or partner with a government organization" as a rescuer is a constitutionally protected benefit and that volunteers and rescuers have "the right to exercise constitutionally protected free speech, free of a state actor's retaliatory adverse act."
Bredar's decision could have implications around the country. Public animal control facilities often make volunteer candidates sign nondisclosure agreements.