Dog Whisperer Sued for Discrimination


Cesar Millan, aka The Dog Whisperer


A former employee of the Dog Whisperer has sued Cesar Millan —

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday, Sean Hawkins, the former executive director of the Cesar and Ilusion Milan Foundation, alleged that he was unlawfully fired after seeking treatment for his alcoholism.  [source]

Alcoholism, by the way, is a disability recognized by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act “FEHA.”  Looks like Milan could be in some trouble.

Hawkins claims that he suffered retaliation after completing a 30-day alcohol treatment program — the Dog Whisperer gave Hawkins’ job to someone else while he was in rehab and refused to reinstate him after his completion of rehab, and two weeks after his return to work the Dog Whisperer fired him.

What’s up with that?  Millan’s entire philosophy is to rehabilitate dogs to avoid putting them in the pound.   Apparently, he doesn’t apply this philosophy to humans.


Cesar does not “train” dogs in the sense of teaching them commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “heel” – he rehabilitates unbalanced dogs and helps “re-train” their owners to better understand how to see the world through a dog’s eyes.

Cesar counsels people to calmly, assertively, and consistently give their dogs rules, boundaries, and limitations to establish themselves as solid pack leaders and to help correct and control unwanted behavior. He doesn’t believe in “quick fixes.” Though changing some behaviors can appear to happen in a relatively short period of time, none of those changes will “stick” unless the human acts consistently with his or her dog every day to keep unwanted behaviors from returning. In Cesar’s opinion, no one should ever hit or yell at a dog to correct unwanted behavior.

If the allegations in the complaint are true, then perhaps Millan needs to see a Human Whisperer (aka psychiatrist, psychologist, LCSW or whoever) to work through his issues.  It is fine to fire an employee for drinking on the job, cursing out customers and using the emergency inflatable slide to exit a plane on a runway. But it is not fine to fire someone because they successfully completed rehab for alcoholism.

A copy of the Complaint is at this link.

Bonus Video:  The real dog whisperer.

Photo Credit:  ballabolla

~ by siouxsielaw on November 13, 2010.

9 Responses to “Dog Whisperer Sued for Discrimination”

  1. Now you give one side of the story. Cesar’s version may be very different. Consider e.g. the possibility that the replacement was clearly superior and deserved the position more—and that the firing was caused by incessant complaining about the changed situation…

    • It is true; I only give one side of the story. That is all that we know so far.
      But even under your scenario, it still makes for a strong retaliation case, or at least one that could go to a jury. You can’t fire someone because they complain about retaliation (or what they perceive to be retaliation).

  2. Bad Cesar. No cookie.

  3. There is hardly enough information available to take anyones side at this point but no organization will allow their CEO (that’s what an executive director at a foundation basically is) to be compromised by substance abuse. Anyone who knows anything about addiction can understand that and noone get’s cured from such things in 1 month either. I think there is probably a whole lot of more to this story than is known right now – and it might never be know. However, he couldn’t reasonably expect to retain his high-profile position in his condition. He was apparently offered a lower position and ‘needed to think about it’. I worked in management consulting for over 10 years and if had heard that I would have recommended termination as well. That thinking is scary for the type of job he held. He wasn’t fired from a mid-level management job. He represented the foundation. I have a hard time seeing how a court will take his side here, but let’s not speculate and just wait and see. I am sure many employers will watch this with high interest.

    • I don’t think your hypothetical would make it past legal. You can’t retaliate against someone simply because they are a recovering alcoholic. You are right, there might be more facts that show Millan had other reasons to terminate. But those facts haven’t surfaced yet. Obviously. And quiet frankly, it is an inconsistent and unflattering position for Mr. Millan. He is all about rehabilitation (for dogs at least).

  4. @siouxsielaw

    You keep mentioning “retaliation”; however, nowhere is it said what this retaliation would be against. If Hawkins hit Milan in the face and then was fired, then the firing could be retaliation (and one that the courts would not object to). If someone is fired or demoted for e.g. unsuitability (based on a “good faith” assessment by the employer), then it does not make sense to talk of retaliation.

    As for firing people in general: I do not live in the US, so my knowledge of local employment law is somewhat scarce. However, in e.g. Germany, it is so that what legal protection is offered “ordinary” employees is highly reduced for those in “upper management” positions (and positions of similar responsibility). Further, it is my impression that US regulations are highly permissible in the first place. Could you point to any specific law that would be violated here?

    Finally, irrespective of who is ultimately in the right and wrong, as long as only one side has been heard we must take greater caution in the positions we take and the statements we make.

    • Take a couple of minutes and try to read the complaint.

      • Having done so, I really do not see much new in terms of “findings of fact” and nothing that truly brings clarity to the layman in terms of “findings of law”.

        In short:

        1. Hawkins is an alcoholic; ergo, he can allegedly not be fired, demoted, whatnot.

        2. Cesar broke oral promises.

        3. Cesar is a meany and Hawkins deserve better treatment.

        4. Hawkins makes claims about retalition that make no sense.

        As a layman, I doubt that 1. would extend to cases were Hawkins potentially endangers his employer. 2. needs some kind of verification. 3. and 4. are unlikely to be legally relevant.

        All in all, I see no strong case, unless 2. receives proof or unless the regulations for 1.are ridiculously protective.

      • Okay, I guess you are not going to agree with me.

        But more important, I can’t help but wonder if Lisbeth Salander is an accurate portrayal of goths in Sweden.

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