Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Becky McClain's Pfizer Retaliation Verdict Upheld

Former Pfizer Scientist Retaliation Verdict Is Upheld

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.

Article and comments here  http://www.pharmalot.com/2012/12/former-pfizer-scientist-retaliation-verdict-is-upheld/


  1. I applaud Mrs. Mc Clain for her tenacity in not buckling under the pressure from the biotech giant Pfizer.

    Too many biotech employees illnesses and injuries are ignored in the biotech industry arena, not only in the medical sector but the agriculture sector as well. The reason? IF the injuries and illnesses, arising out of workplace exposure’s to known and unknown viruses, bacteria and fungi were reported (as is mandated by law) there would be federal and state investigations into the lack of health and safety in the workplace, which in turn would hinder biotech companies from getting their “products” registered with the FDA and the EPA. It’s sad to say, but getting “products” on the market far outweigh the health and safety of the employee/s.

    As for OSHA? OSHA is not up to speed when it comes to new technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology etc. I have discovered that more times than not that when OSHA is contacted regarding a health and safety complaint; OSHA either ignores the complaint, puts it on the back burner or they contact the company by phone or in a letter; thus allowing the unsafe employer to 1) hide and/or cover-up the health and safety violation; 2) reply to OSHA that the complaint was filed by a “disgruntled employee or ex-employee”. What ever happened to on-the-spot surprise inspections when OSHA has received a health and safety violation complaint? These seem to be non-existent.

    As for OSHA’s “inspectors” not being medical doctors? I can only speak for OSHA in California. Dr Larry Rose who was with Cal/OSHA for 28 years and the “last” Cal/OSHA Public Health Medical Officer in the state of California was asked the question in a 2008 interview, “Now why would you need a Doctor at Cal/OSHA?”. Dr. Rose’s reply was, “Well it’s critical… the Compliance Officers, or Industrial Hygienists, and they’re not trained at all in medicine. They don’t know how to read a medical record, they know nothing about infectious diseases.

    The biotech industry needs to be held accountable for the harm they have been and still are causing. Their “trade secrets”, “proprietary information agreements” as well as the contract/s “won’t say anything bad about the company” that the biotech employee has to sign should be unlawful.

    Every employee who works in ANY industry in the United States should have the guarantee they have a safe and healthy workplace environment. They should also have the right to know what made them ill or injured them with no exceptions. American workers should not be “thrown under the bus” because of concealment, fraud, corruption and/or collusion.

    I hope Mrs. Mc Clain’s case against Pfizer will bring attention to the biotech employee’s plight.

    After posting the above I was asked about lab workers unionizing.... Following was my response:

  2. Dzieczko, I'm pretty sure there would be a never ending battle in biolab employees trying to get "unionized" as you put it.

    1) Universities are usually involved in the biotech industry. Many of them are involved in biotech patents along with private biotech companies

    2) There is Congress involvement in getting biotech "products" registered. [I can give you one clear-cut example with the company my son worked for]

    Session 5: Regulation of and impacts on microbial biopesticides.
    (Moderated by Eldon Ortman, Agricultural research programs, Purdue)
    5.1 - Impact of regulatory activity on emerging companies - Pam Marrone, Marrone Organic Innovations (wmv, 29 Mb)

    "Ok, Serenade took 20 months for registration, actually that seems fast to me now, but at the time...where was I? I started up the company in ‘95, I raised my first round of venture capital in ‘97, submitted the package for Serenade in ‘98. 2000 it still wasn’t approved and investor’s were on my tail. I raised 20 million at that point. Investor’s were hounding me, they thought I was incompetent and.. and what’s going on? And so, finally what they did was "THEY ACTUALLY CALLED THEIR CONGRESS PEOPLE ON THEIR OWN TO RATTLE AROUND AND PUT PRESSURE ON THE AGENCY TO APPROVE SERENADE." That does not endear you to the agency, in fact, it is counter productive to ... to do that actually, but in this case I couldn’t hold back my investors they were...that was... "THEY WERE THE MONEY PEOPLE AND THAT'S JUST THE WAY IT WAS"

    3) There are way too many high powered people who have vested interests in the biotech industry.

    A reply was also given to my above comment which said what "they did" was put pressure on the VC (venture capital) people who then put pressure on the people running for congress. So there it is... in a nutshell.