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August 23, 2017

Lynette Petruska Filed a Lawsuit Against Stray Rescue on Behalf of her Client After She was Terminated Following Concerns She Raised

via KSDK

A longtime animal shelter in the city is facing allegations of racial discrimination and mistreatment of people and pets

There is more legal trouble for a longtime animal shelter in St. Louis and the people who help run it.

On Wednesday, a racial discrimination lawsuit was filed against Stray Rescue, its founder Randy Grim, its entire board of directors and three members of its executive team.

It is the second such lawsuit to be filed against the non-profit in the past three months. But this time around, one major difference is apparent.

The newest suit includes accusations of wrongdoing that go beyond the shelter and its leadership. Mistreatment and abuse of pets in the shelter are also alleged.

“I went there because I thought there were people in there just like me, and that wasn’t the case,” said the latest plaintiff, Kristin Boyd.

Boyd, of Jefferson County, is a self-proclaimed animal lover who was drawn to Stray Rescue in 2013 after losing her dog.

She served first as a volunteer, but was hired in 2013 and later promoted to assistant shelter manager in 2016.

“That place was my entire life,” Boyd said. “I worked six days a week. I was sometimes there seven days a week.”

But over time, she said Stray Rescue turned out not to be the place she thought it was.

“Because I was in a management position, I was able to see a lot more going on in Stray Rescue that did not sit well with me,” Boyd said.

Her lawsuit alleges that even though the shelter advertises itself as a no-kill facility, it “killed some dogs behind closed doors.”

Boyd also claims that “certain staff members were abusing animals” and keeping “animals in crates for hours” when the public was told they had the freedom to roam outside their crates.

Then there’s the distemper outbreak that killed 43 shelter dogs late last year.

Stray Rescue, in Boyd’s suit, is accused of failing to vaccinate against distemper in “impossible-to-adopt” dogs that were “hidden in the back room.”

Boyd’s attorney, Lynette Petruska, said this failure helped contribute to the deadly outbreak that the shelter then turned around and profited from.

“It appears they benefited from their own negligence,” she said.

But Boyd and Petruska argue that the mistreatment within Stray Rescue doesn’t stop with the animals.

Boyd said there were multiple instances in which Grim and others in a position of leadership allowed for a hostile work environment.

She said one manager, in particular, was racist.

“A black girl came in to give her application, and before she even turned away to walk out, she (the manager) tossed it in the trash can,” Boyd said.

Boyd also recalled instances in which African-Americans in the shelter were referred to as “ghetto.”

Her suit alleges that Stray Rescue also retaliates against those who attempt to speak up and report workplace issues.

“If somebody saw something that happened in there and took it to upper management, they would be gone,” Boyd said.

In her case, she said she attempted to report incidents of dogs being killed and racially charged language, and was met with hostility from Grim.

She said he called her while she was on vacation and informed her she was fired.

“He seemed ready to pick a fight,” she said.

Boyd said her firing came four days after attempting to speak up.

“I think it happened because I opened my mouth,” she said.

Now her lawsuit is seeking damages.

But Petruska said furthermore, while Stray Rescue does good work, “a change” is needed at the top.

5 On Your Side attempted to get an interview for this story. Instead, we were sent the following statement from the shelter’s attorney, Burton Garland:

Contrary to the false allegations in her lawsuit, Stray Rescue has not violated the Missouri Human Rights Act or behaved in any sort of reckless or negligent manner. Stray Rescue has adopted policies and procedures that strive to prevent and remedy all forms of illegal discrimination in the workplace, including race discrimination and retaliation. In addition, this case involves an individual, Ms. Boyd, who was very upset when she attempted to adopt a stray animal from Stray Rescue and Stray Rescue refused to allow the adoption because Ms. Boyd’s live-in boyfriend had previously been convicted of animal cruelty (The People of the State of Illinois v. Arnez A. Tucker, Case No. 13CM0004067). When she was told she would not be allowed to adopt the animal and that Stray Rescue had allowed someone else to adopt the animal, she became, irate, profane, threatening and belligerent. Stray Rescue will defend itself vigorously against these baseless allegations and is very confident it will be fully vindicated when the evidence is presented in Court.

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