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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Animal Rights Guy Says He Can Speak Freely

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Whole Foods' former "global animal compassion coordinator" claims the company can't enforce the non-disparagement clause in his termination agreement because "he was provided with no consideration" for signing it. Andrew Gunther's new job is with the Animal Welfare Institute - and he says he never disparaged Whole Foods anyway.

In his complaint in Travis County Court, Gunther says he resigned from his job with Whole Foods Market Services in April 2008. His job there, as global animal compassion coordinator, was to find livestock farmers who practice "responsible farming practices," so Whole Foods could buy their meat and sell it at Whole Foods stores, according to the complaint.

"At or about the time of Mr. Gunther's resignation, Whole Foods demanded that Mr. Gunther execute an employee termination agreement that, among other things, included a non-disparagement clause," the complaint states.

Gunther then went to work for the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit which hired him as its "Director of the Animal Welfare Approved Program."

"Mr. Gunther's primary duties at AWI include researching, investigating and reporting about the methods and practices of farms across the United States," according to the complaint. "Specifically, Mr. Gunther is charged with determining whether farms are engaged in sustainable and responsible farming practices and reporting his findings to the agricultural community."

Gunther says that on Jan. 19 he got a letter from Whole Foods in which the company threatened to sue him for making "false, misleading or disparaging statements about retailers with an implied reference to Whole Foods Market."

Gunther says Whole Foods' "threatening letter" accused him of making "false, misleading or disparaging statements about retailers with an implied reference to Whole Foods Market. Accordingly, we believe that you are in violation of your employee termination agreement. ... Whole Foods Market demands that you immediately cease and desist from making any further misleading, disparaging and false statements concerning Whole Foods Market. If you fail or refuse to comply with this demand, then we will take whatever action is available to us to protect the rights of Whole Foods Market. Specifically, we may seek legal recourse against you." (Ellipsis as in complaint.)

Gunther denies he has made any disparaging statements about Whole Foods or its directors since he resigned. He adds that when he signed Whole Foods' employee termination agreement "he was provided with no consideration and there was no recitation of consideration included in the language of the agreement."

Gunther seeks declaratory judgment that "the employee termination agreement at issue in this matter is void and unenforceable" and he is not bound by its terms, including the non-disparagement clause.

He is represented by Trenton Kelly with the Ross Law Group in Austin.

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