Medical Firm Strikes Back at Animal Rights Group


     (CN) - A Los Angeles-based medical equipment supplier asked for a restraining order against an animal rights group it claims has terrorized its employees by holding protests every weekend for months at their homes and offices.
     Beckman Coulter Inc. sued for an injunction and restraining order against Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, affiliated group Band of Mercy Inc., and group members Nicoal Sheen, Tyler Lang, Ezell Rima Jomaa and Shannon Maas in Orange County Superior Court to stop the group from allegedly harassing its employees.
     The animal rights groups gained notoriety for targeting U.K.-based Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) over cosmetics testing that company conducts on animals.
     Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty began with peaceful protests in 1999, trying to shut down Huntingdon Life at its headquarters in the U.K. Over the years, protesters escalated their tactics, making threatening calls to Huntingdon employees at home, fire bombing 11 cars belonging to employees and sending them packages containing dead animals, feces and razor blades to their homes, according to the complaint.
     "One HLS executive was assaulted with pepper spray and struck in full view of his family. HLS's managing director was viciously beaten outside his home by masked men wielding axe handles," the lawsuit states.
     When Huntingdon Life obtained an injunction limiting the group's ability to conduct protests against it, and prohibiting it from protesting outside employees' homes, Stop Huntingdon turned its efforts toward any company it decided was in cahoots with Huntingdon Life, the lawsuit states.
     The activist group allegedly targeted numerous companies that had ties with Huntingdon, including Charles Schwab, Merrill Lynch, Aetna Insurance, Citibank, Johnson & Johnson and UPS. Many companies have severed ties with Huntingdon because of the groups' continuous threats, according to the complaint.
     One by one, those companies followed suit and obtained their own injunctions, the lawsuit states.
     Beckman Coulter says it has become the group's latest victim.
     But the Brea, Calif. company claims the group is wrongly targeting it, pointing to its positive accomplishments in the medical field.
     Beckman Coulter says it does not engage in animal testing. Rather, it develops, markets and manufactures medical testing equipment that helps scientists study the causes of diseases and come up with new treatments, Beckman Coulter claims.
     And the company says it does not exercise any control over Huntingdon Life's animal testing.
     Beckman Coulter says the activist group has launched an attack against it using tactics that are "virtually identical to those that preceded numerous instances of vandalism and other criminal activity that were perpetrated by (Stop Huntingdon Life Sciences) and its affiliates ... against other companies."
     Beginning in February, Stop Huntingdon allegedly posted photos and addresses of Beckman Coulter employees and former employees on its website.
     In March, the group allegedly gathered outside the homes of three Beckman Coulter employees - Allison Blackwell, Clair O'Donovan and Bob Hurley - blaring sirens through bullhorns and shouting things like "animal abuser," "murderer," and "corporate scum."
     On April 8, Easter Sunday, protesters allegedly demonstrated outside the homes of O'Donovan and Jeffrey Linton dressed as Easter Bunnies with blacked eyes. They held signs with images of mutilated animals and yelled "animal mutilator" and reiterated their resolve to achieve their goals "by any means necessary," Beckman Coulter says.
     On April 13, protesters began calling Beckman Coulter employees at work, demanding that they hear their concerns immediately or "you'll be hearing from us soon," the lawsuit states.
     On April 22, protesters allegedly gathered outside Blackwell's home chanting several false statements, including, "Allison Blackwell is directly responsible for 4-month old beagles being punched in the face," and urging her to "leave town" or "act up and fight back."
     They shouted similar threats outside Linton's home as well, according to the complaint.
     Beckman Coulter says it has spent more than $50,000 hiring additional security to protect its employees. And the harassing behavior has caused employees to be less productive at work as they fear for their safety, Beckman Coulter claims.
     It claims its employees are reasonably afraid and that without a restraining order the threats and harassment will continue and escalate.
     Because of its tactics, Stop Huntingdon has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the FBI. In 2009 and 2010, 13 members of the group were jailed for between 15 months and 11 years on charges of conspiracy to blackmail or harm Huntingdon Life and its suppliers.
     Beckman Coulter wants Stop Huntingdon to remove from its websites all posts referring to it or its employees, provide notice in writing at least six hours before a demonstration, stop demonstrating within 150 feet of property lines at its headquarters and employees' homes, stop contacting employees by email and by phone, stop using sound amplifying devices like bullhorns and stop threatening violence.
     Beckman Coulter is represented by Frank Broccolo of Sidley Austin in Los Angeles.