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Becky McClain's Pfizer Retaliation Verdict Upheld

Posted Dec 18 2012 7:16am

Former Pfizer Scientist Retaliation Verdict Is Upheld

By Ed Silverman // December 17th, 2012 // 8:13 am
A federal appeals court upheld a $1.37 million verdict that was awarded in April 2010 to Becky McClain, a former Pfizer scientist who claimed she was infected by an experimental virus while working at the drugmaker’s Groton laboratories and was fired for complaining. A district court judge later added attorney fees and punitive damages that increased the total to $2.3 million.
As reported previously, McClain alleged Pfizer violated whistleblower laws and her freedom of speech by terminating her in 2005 after she pressed complaints with the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. She had become ill the previous year and filed her lawsuit in 2006 (back stories here and here and her lawsuit ).
The case had been closely watched because it was the first federal lawsuit that went to trial in which a biotech worker alleged to have been harmed by a novel virus on the job. The lawsuit was seen as an example of evidence that risks caused by genetic manipulation have outstripped more slowly evolving government regulation of laboratories.
However, one of her main concerns — that Pfizer had exposed her to an unsafe laboratory – never actually got a hearing in court, The Day notes. And McClain remains unsure whether her message about the need to bolster regulations at largely unregulated biotech labs is getting through, but The Day writes, she is grateful for the financial security to pursue better medical care.
“We’re happy,” the molecular biologist tells The Day. “But whistleblowers need swifter, quicker protections. Ten years is a long time to make it through something like this… (but) “that is still an area that needs to be addressed by OSHA” ( here is the order upholding the verdict ).
In a statement, Pfizer tells the paper it “holds the health and safety of its colleagues and contractors among its highest priorities thereby reaffirming the earlier federal court decision that Ms. McClain’s allegations of work safety issues were completely without merit.”
The drugmaker, which deciding whether to file a further appeal, also referred to a judge’s decision to disallow a legal claim related to her concerns about being exposed to a dangerous virus, The Day writes, adding that the judge later disqualified herself from pursuing the case because of a conflict of interest.
McClain claimed that Pfizer refused to disclose records showing the type of virus to which she was exposed, but the drugmaker maintained she was never exposed to a hazard, and therefore there were no records to hand over, according to the paper.

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