Former employee sues UC Regents for alleged retaliation

Janet Keyzer, a former UC Davis research coordinator, believes she was fired after she reported violations in her research group’s practices. In response, she is suing the UC regents.

The lawsuit comes after a lengthy 18-month investigation conducted by the University, which concluded that both her and her husband’s 2007 terminations from their positions at UCD were unrelated to her reporting of research improprieties.

Keyzer conducted her research with the Community Oriented Pain-management Exchange (COPE). The organization was created to conduct pain treatment research in California prisons, and was a joint effort between UCD, the California Department of Corrections (CDC) and the Correctional Medicine Network at UCSF.

Keyzer, a registered nurse for over 30 years, had already been a Nurse Research Coordinator with UCD for over nine years when she started work with the COPE in April 2006.

During her time on the COPE project, Keyzer noticed improper use of confidential medical records and protected health information (PHI) of San Quentin patients, as well as interviews conducted without informed consent.

When Keyzer confronted her supervisor about these violations, she and her team were instructed by a supervisor to destroy the paperwork and disregard the improprieties.

Keyzer contacted UCD’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which is responsible for regulating all research involving human subjects, and discovered that COPE did not have an IRB approval for research. She filed a complaint and was invited to testify for the proceeding IRB investigation.

At roughly the same time of the hearing, Keyzer’s husband was abruptly fired from his job at COPE as an IT specialist. Keyzer believes that her husband’s dismissal was a deliberate punishment for voicing her concern, and an attempt at intimidation to prevent her from speaking at the IRB hearing.

The IRB substantiated Keyzer’s allegations, prompting UCSF to withdraw support for COPE in August 2007. The $5 million dollar grant was subsequently returned to the government, and the research project itself was shut down.

“As an actively licensed registered nurse in California, I am obligated to come forward and do what is necessary to protect my patients,Keyzer said.

Though other employees from the COPE project were given positions on other long term projects, Keyzer was given two temporary positions of either 12 months or 30 to 90 days. Keyzer declined both offers and was then notified of her termination from her job at UCD.

“The bottom line is that had Janet Keyzer not blown the whistle, she would still be employed there,said Mary-Alice Coleman, Keyzer’s attorney.They could have held her off, gave her some sort of recognition saying this is what people should do when you uncover something improper.

UCD Associate Vice President of Communications Lynn Tiereney stated that UC is not allowed to comment on Keyzer’s personal matters, however she points out that the positions Keyzer was offered were indeed the only ones available at the time.

Keyzer subsequently filed a Whistleblower Retaliation Claim against UCD in January 2008 that led to the 18-month investigation, which found that Keyzer and her husband’s terminations were not related to her IRB testimony.

Keyzer’s experience with whistleblower retaliation at UCD has not gone unnoticed. Keyzer testified on May 5 of this year before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Senator Leland Yee’s SB 219, currently on the governor’s desk. The bill would force the UC Regents to be more accountable for whistleblower retaliation complaints.

“The current process at UC does not work,Keyzer said during the hearing.It creates a dysfunctional culture of cover-up and it encourages people not to come forward and not tell the truth for fear of retaliation.

In response, Tiereney emphasized that the UC system never attempted to cover the case up.

“Overall, we encourage people to come forward with reports of wrong-doing in all cases,Tiereny said.Our posture is one that encourages students to come forward. We do not support retaliation. We support openness.

 

ARNOLD LAU can be reached at campus@theaggie.org. 

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