Tuesday, September 1, 2009

BARC Whistleblower Suit by Veterinarian Gil Costas against The City of Houston

Sep. 1, 2009. As reported by THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE today, former BARC vet Gil Costas yesterday filed a lawsuit under the Texas Whistleblower Act against the City of Houston, alleging wrongful discharge in retaliation for reporting unlawful goings-on at the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care [not Control], which has had a troubled past and has been a magnet of public scrutiny and media attention.



5.1. From May 2006 until the date of his wrongful termination on February 3, 2009, Dr. Costas worked as a veterinarian for the City of Houston - Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care ("BARC"). BARCis "an appropriate law enforcement authority" as defined by Tex. Gov't Code

5.2. In November and December 2008, and January 2009, Dr. Costas reported violations of law to then BARC Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Eunice Ohashiegbula-Iwunze ("Dr. O"), and BARC Interim Bureau Chief, Barbara Sudhoff-McGill. Upon information and belief, some of the complaints have been investigated by the City of Houston Police Department-Office of Inspector General ("OIG").1

5.3. The violations of law include, but are not limited to, Texas Penal Code §42.09 (animal cruelty), Texas Administrative Code, Ch. 13 and Title 21 of the United States Code (state and federal controlled substances acts), and the Veterinary Licensing Act, Ch. 801 and Texas Occupations Code (unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine, misuse of DEA narcotics

5.4. In November and December 2008, Dr. Costas complained that BARC staff veterinarian Dr. David Rundell had insufficient licenses to handle controlled substances and had engaged in animal cruelty. He also complained that Dr. O permitted these violations to occur and otherwise
covering-up and ignoring the violations.

5.5. Within approximately two (2) weeks of making the November 2008 report, Dr. Costas was disciplined by Dr. O. As an animal rights activist, Dr. Costas remained undeterred in his quest to ensure that animals would not suffer at the hands of uncaring, untrained, or unlicenced personnel. Accordingly, in December 2008, he wrote another complaint in which he addressed Rundell's continued illegal acts, the City's refusal to address same, and Dr. O's continued cover-up and blatant retaliation against Dr. Costas for having made reports of violations of law.

5.6. Then, on February 3, 2009, within 90-days of having made a report of a violation of law to Dr. O and Interim Bureau Chief Sudhoff-McGill, Dr. Costas was terminated. The alleged basis for termination was that Dr. Costas lacked "a current DPS registration...." This statement is blatantly false and was known as such to BARC well before February 2009. The City was simply trying to hurriedly squelch Dr. Costas and discredit him. Its motive is further evidenced by the misquoting of the Texas Administrative Code section it relied upon.

5.7. Following the termination, and after receiving unequivocal evidence that the basis for termination was false, the City continued its campaign against Dr. Costas by repeatedly expressing the falsities to the press.

5.8. In March 2009, Dr. Costas asked City of Houston Mayor Bill White to investigate the facts surrounding his termination, and to ask City employees to cease maligning and disparaging him. In that memorandum, Dr. Costas provided a significant amount of supporting data, including evidence of his proper licensure. He also asked Mayor White to initiate any appeal process available to him, and to reinstate him since the alleged basis for termination was demonstrably false. The City did not reply to these requests.

5.9. In April 2009, in apparent retaliation for having elevated his complaints, Dr. O filed a baseless complaint with the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners ("Board") against Dr. Costas. During this time, the Board was also investigating allegations brought in December 2008 and January 2009 by a citizen against Dr. O and Dr. Rundell.

5.10. In June 2009, the Board issued its findings which exonerated Dr. Costas,2 and, not surprisingly, found that Dr. O and Dr. Rundell violated the Veterinary Licensing Act, Ch. 801, the Texas Occupations Code, and various Board rules and regulations.3

5.11. Perhaps most tellingly, Dr. 0 filed the Board complaint against Dr. Costas on the same date she signed-off on the Board's findings against her. The retaliatory motive against Dr. Costas, from November 2008 through the date of his termination, and continuing thereafter, is plain
to see. The City's thinly veiled attempt to support the separation under false guises must be remedied.

[footnotes omitted]

The suit was randomly assigned to the 190th District Court, presided over by the Hon. Patricia Kerrigan. An answer will not be due for several weeks.

To read the original petition in its entirety, click on the hotlink below:

Fired BARC veterinarian files whistleblower suit against City: Gil Costas, DVM v. The City of Houston

Animal Law Litigation and Appellate Caselaw
Whistleblower Act Appeals
Recent Texas Supreme Court Decisions in Whistleblower Cases

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe there is animal creulty at barc. My puppy was taken to barc when she got loose. She was a healthy happy dog when she arrived at the facility. But, when we went to pick her up she had lost so much weight that I could see all of her ribs and backbone. She had marks all over her, had a horrible hacking chest cough, was vomiting, very lathargic, and can barely get around. She used to run and jump and play, but now she barely gets out of her bed and barely eats. When I contacted barc to find out what happened and and to find outhat was wrong with her, I was smugly told I had to take her to my vet and that the City of Houston was not responsible for anything that happened to her while they had her! How can they "not be responsible" , when they were supposed to be caring fot her while she was there? There slogan reads "we deeply care about animals", I dont believe that! Beware of this place! When I asked who I made a compaint to, the "communications specialist" didnt even know to whom the complaint should be filed, after continously pressing her for an answer, I was told "the State of Texas" when I asked what department she sent me to Zoonosis, which is disease control. I will be finding out who is the governing authority for this place. Animal creulty is a prosecutable crime and I intend to do so!