The Government Accountability Project (GAP), along with a coalition of watchdog organizations, filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s harmful anti-whistleblower legislation. The state’s law, which aims to punish those who conduct undercover investigations of any private entity in North Carolina, is one of the most appalling overt attempts to silence whistleblowers in GAP’s 38-year history.
Like other states’ so-called “Ag Gag” bills, this measure was heavily lobbied by corporate agriculture companies, which have faced increased scrutiny of their animal welfare practices in recent years. Unlike other measures, however, North Carolina’s law is written so broadly that it could target truth-tellers across all corporate sectors – not just agriculture. Individuals who wish to expose improper or criminal activity at nursing homes or daycare centers, for example, could face a lawsuit and substantial damages if they provide evidence to the public or press.
This legislation cannot stand. As a whistleblower protection organization, GAP continues to be a leading advocate against state anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bills that aim to criminalize food industry whistleblowing by prohibiting (among other actions) the shooting of video at large-scale agricultural processing facilities without written consent of the owner. These laws have a chilling effect on whistleblowers who intend to expose atrocities to animals, threats to food, harm to workers, and potential dangers to the environment.
Throughout our organization’s history, numerous whistleblowers from North Carolina have come to GAP with serious disclosures that were in the public interest – including horrific food safety abuses at the national grocery chain Food Lion. GAP took 19 Food Lion whistleblowers to ABC News, which then had its own reporters use insiders to substantiate the allegations. The resulting powerful broadcast demonstrated the importance of video confirmation of whistleblower concerns. If the state’s new anti-whistleblower law had been in place, such evidence would not have been possible and Food Lion would not have been held to account.
As the coalition’s joint statement reads: “This law blatantly violates citizens’ rights to free speech, a free press, and to petition their government, and violates the Equal Protection Clause. It places the safety of our families, our food supply, and animals at risk, and it attempts to bully and threaten those working for transparency, free speech and the public good. Our lawsuit is being brought for the sake of the health and safety of all citizens of North Carolina. We are confident the law will be found unconstitutional and that a victory in North Carolina will deter other state legislatures from repeating North Carolina’s mistake.”
Anna Myers is Executive Director/CEO of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) – the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.