|NIH Whistleblower Wins Right to Federal Court Trial|
ruled in favor of a sickle cell disease researcher who blew the whistle on improper cloning of blood cell lines. The decision clears the way Dr. Duane Bonds to proceed with her claim that the National Institutes of Health fired her in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the improper cloning of cell lines without consent.
This is the first case in which a federal employee will be allowed to pursue a whistleblower lawsuit in federal district court. Dr. Bonds' attorney is Michael Kohn, president of the National Whistleblowers Center and a partner with Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP, in Washington, DC. Kohn said: "This decision expands the rights of some federal workers to pursue their whistleblower claims in federal district courts around the country. Unfortunately, since Congress continues to treat federal employees as second-class citizens this right is only available to federal employees who are able to bring a race, sex, age, national origin or religion claim in conjunction with a whistleblower claim. Otherwise, a federal employee has no right to a federal court hearing."
Dr. Bonds, a female African-American medical officer, worked under National Institute of Health's National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) since 1990. She was responsible for coordinating and overseeing all of NHLBI's sickle cell disease human clinical trials and epidemiologic studies. Sickle cell disease is the most frequently inherited blood disorder in the United States, which in this country afflicts primarily persons of Sub-Saharan African descent.
Dr. Bonds learned that blood from African-American infants was taken from participants enrolled in the clinical trial for which she was the project officer without proper informed consent in order to create immortalized cell lines for future scientific study. Dr. Bonds was shocked when she learned of the unauthorized cloning and, as the project officer ordered the immediate destruction of all of the improperly created cell lines. Bonds' supervisor, Dr. Charles Peterson, interceded and overruled Bonds' order. Dr. Bonds subsequently brought her concerns to NHLBI's Director, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, who initially agreed with her, but ultimately failed to take steps to destroy the cell lines.
Retaliation against Dr. Bonds was swift. Within days of raising the issue of the illegally cloned cell lines with Dr. Nabel, a memorandum was handed to Dr. Bonds which stated that she was under investigation and was being summarily removed her from her role as the Sickle Cell Disease Coordinator and was threatened with termination if she raised concerns about the illegally cloned cell lines or discussed that she had been removed from her position with anyone. NHLBI then paid an outside attorney over $100,000 of taxpayer money to conduct the investigation that led to her termination.
Frustrated by the corrupted
internal process, Dr. Bonds decided to report the existence of the
illegally cloned cell lines to the federal Office of Special Counsel
(OSC). The OSC
concluded that NHLBI's failure to destroy the cell lines violated
federal law and issued a report to the President to that effect. In the
midst of the OSC investigation, NHLBI illegally searched Dr. Bonds'
emails with her attorney and located a copy of the OSC complaint.
Bonds was terminated shortly after that when she was blamed for missing
expiration dates on drug labels used by outside investigators in one of
her studies. Dr. Bonds supervisor, Dr. Peterson, knew that the missing
labels had been reported a year earlier to others and ignored this fact
in order to blame Dr. Bonds.