Current and former employees file law suit against Anheuser-Busch for drug operation.
At a news conference held Tuesday morning in Los Angeles prior to the filing of the suit, the four plaintiffs -- two of whom are still employed at the Van Nuys plant -- and their attorney, Andrew M. Wyatt, provided details of the suit and the alleged illegal operation that was conducted by a private security company with ``drug-sniffing'' dogs.
The plaintiffs in the suit, who had been employed by Anheuser- Busch for a combined 34 years, included: Fred Cameron, a machinist who now lives in a camper; Jeff Bower of Simi Valley, Calif., an engineer; Dan McWilliams of Acton, Calif., an electrician; and David Cortez of Lancaster, Calif., a maintenance electrician.
McWilliams and Cortez are still employed at the plant while Cameron and Bower were terminated.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit were: Anheuser-Busch; Robert Warner and George Logan, Los Angeles brewery personnel manager and assistant personnel manager, respectively; and Russ Whitmeyer and Associates Inc., a private security firm.
According to Wyatt, a Los Angeles-based attorney whose law firm specializes in civil litigation with an emphasis in employment law, the lawsuit seeks compensatory, punitive and special damages for emotional distress and physical and financial loss.
He commented: ``At best, this drug operation was an improper, unreasonable and unwarranted search which was conducted without prior notice and exposed innocent employees to unlawful detainment, mental distress and humiliation.
``At worst, it was an illegal operation that was conducted with intimidation and coercion, involved unlawful detainment and resulted in two long-time employees being fired without just cause.''
Wyatt hastened to add: ``The whole operation was reminiscent of some of the horror stories emanating from Germany during World War II.''
The operation, Wyatt noted, was conducted during the ``swing shift'' at the Los Angeles brewery on Aug. 18, beginning at 4:30 p.m. and ending in the late evening. At 4:30 p.m., the turnstiles between the plant and the employee parking lot were locked, as were the parking lot entrance and exit gates, he said.
The purpose, he remarked, was to isolate the vehicles in the lot for examination by the security firm.
Wyatt reported that security-firm personnel with dogs then checked all vehicles. If a dog sat down next to a vehicle, it received a yellow tag indicating drugs might be present. Owners of the vehicles, he pointed out, would be located and taken to a room in the administration building where they would be told to sign a consent form authorizing a search of their vehicles and persons.
If they refused to sign the consent form, he emphasized, they were told they would be suspended and terminated.
Following Wyatt's remarks on the operation and the nature of the lawsuit, each of the four plaintiffs briefly outlined his grievance.
Cameron was the first employee to be approached during the operation. An employee of 11 years with the company, he refused to sign the consent form because he felt it was a violation of his civil rights. He was suspended and subsequently terminated. He reported that he is still unemployed, has lost his Palmdale, Calif., home and now lives in a camper.
Bower said he offered to take a urine test, in addition to signing the consent form, but was denied. After signing the form, he was partially ``strip searched'' and his truck was examined. Found in the glove compartment of his truck were some materials normally associated with marijuana.
Wyatt noted that possession of these materials was not illegal and there was no indication they belonged to Bower. Bower was suspended and later terminated by Anheuser-Busch.
McWilliams, who worked at the plant for more than a decade, also signed the consent form, was ``body searched'' and had his car inspected. He said nothing was found and he felt humiliated as the car search was held in view of hundreds of employees who were watching the operation.
Cortez reported he had just completed a 12-hour work day at 7 p.m. -- including four hours of overtime requested by the brewery -- when he tried to leave to go home. He was denied permission to leave and, as his car was ``locked in,'' he had to arrange for other transportation.
CONTACT: Fisher & Associates Inc., Woodland Hills
Bob Fisher/Lynn Homsy, 818/593-2202
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|Date:||Nov 21, 1995|
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