lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s Ag-Gag law, ruling that undercover investigations and whistleblowing are considered newsgathering activities protected by the First Amendment.
A coalition of public interest groups filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s “Anti-Sunshine” law – a statute that restricts these groups from conducting and publicizing undercover investigations by allowing employers and property owners to sue undercover investigators seeking to expose unethical or illegal activities in the workplace. Although similar to “Ag-Gag” laws challenged around the country, the state’s law extends beyond animal agriculture facilities and penalizes undercover investigations in settings like daycare centers and nursing homes.
Under North Carolina’s law, organizations and journalists are susceptible to lawsuits and substantial damages if they publicize evidence gathered from investigative activities such as speaking with employees, recording documents in nonpublic areas, documenting animal abuse, and performing surveillance at unsafe and unethical workplaces. Additionally, the law’s text and legislative history shows that the statute’s primary objective is to stop undercover investigations by what the legislature termed “private special-interest organizations,” specifically those focused on animal agriculture and food health and safety.
Today, the Fourth Circuit rejected the state’s numerous claims that undercover investigations fall outside of First Amendment protections, holding that each of the challenged provisions are not just subject to the First Amendment, but are viewpoint discriminatory, as they were originally passed to suppress speech critical of businesses and employer conduct. [aldf.org]