For people who are unfamiliar with the practices of raising animals for slaughter, a pig farm operation may appear troubling. However, when experienced farmers complain about animal abuse at a pig processing facility, government inspectors should take a closer look at the claims. An employee at a hog farm in Illinois reported alleged abuse to government inspectors and was surprised to learn that her complaints went nowhere.
Sharee Santorineos was hired as a breeding technician at Eagle Point Farms, near Table Grove, Illinois, about 60 miles southeast of Peoria. Santorineos was no stranger to farming and raising livestock for slaughter. She grows pigs and chickens of her own at a rural farm. However, what she saw at Eagle Point was enough to make her take action by filing a whistleblower complaint with the Illinois Bureau of Animal Health and Welfare.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, Santorineos' three-page letter detailed multiple observations of abuse, including, “pigs that are pregnant beat with steel bars.” After filing the damning complaint, Santorineos expected the state to take some action to correct the abuse. Instead, a state inspector came out for a brief tour of the farm and wrote, “I did not observe anyone mistreating the animals,” and the docket was closed.
The Animal Health and Welfare bureau have just six inspectors to inspect operations that send 12 million hogs to market every year. In the last five years, the bureau has not found a single infraction or violation across the state. However, farm workers tell a much different story.
In interviews, a number of hog-confinement workers talked about other employees whipping pigs, gouging them with pens and pliers, and abusing pigs for amusement. One former employee of another pig farm, Kelley Shannon, talked about a supervisor aggressively abusing animals. “I'm talking, full-bore kick. Bloody its nose and punch a pig so hard it damn near popped its eye out.”
In 2013, after an employee with Win Production LLC hog confinement complained about other employees beating pigs with metal bars, bureau investigators made a few short phone calls to determine there were no violations. The investigator called a manager and an owner who the investigator could not recall their name and emailed a veterinarian. After all three denied the allegation, the inspector closed the docket.
The Illinois Whistleblower Act protects an employee from reporting certain information to government agencies or law enforcement. This includes information that an employee has reasonable cause to believe may be a violation of a state or federal rules, laws or regulations. Additionally, an employer may not retaliate against an employee who discloses this information to law enforcement, a government agency, a court, administrative hearing or other proceedings.
If you have been retaliated against by your employer after speaking out about wrongdoing, you should speak with an Illinois employment law attorney to make sure your rights are protected. Federal and state laws protect you from being retaliated against when reporting unlawful activities. Our attorneys have successfully represented clients in employment law cases throughout the state of Illinois. If you have been retaliated against, contact your Illinois employment law attorneys at Benassi & Benassi.