YAKIMA, Wash. — A federal appeals court rejected a former inspector’s claim that she was punished for reporting that a Terrace Heights company was violating food safety laws.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Friday a 2015 U.S. District Court ruling that Wendy Alguard did not have a valid whistleblower claim against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for whom she worked as a commodity food grader.
Alguard, in court records, said she reported that Snokist cannery was hiding totes of moldy applesauce that it was alleged to be reprocessing into school lunch products.
The allegations, and its battles with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and loss of sales to USDA’s school lunch program, forced the company into bankruptcy.
But Alguard claimed that the USDA tried to reassign her to another location 1,000 miles away, and fired her when she refused to accept it, because of her whistleblowing.
She initially brought administrative claims with the USDA’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office and the U.S. Merit System Protection Board, which ruled against her, and U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice dismissed her $600,000 lawsuit in 2015.
The appellate court found that Alguard was reassigned because of a lack of work in the area for commodity graders and she had the least seniority at her office. It said it was immaterial that Alguard’s disclosure may have contributed to the decrease in inspections.
Judges also found that Alguard’s disclosure was not directed at the agency, making it unlikely the USDA would have a motive to retaliate against her.
Attempts to contact Alguard were not successful. She does not have a working listed phone number.