Former Duke lab research analyst, Joseph Thomas, sued the university after discovering that data had been falsified in order to secure $1 million in federal grants. Following the allegations, Duke has to agree to pay the U.S. government a settlement of $112.5 million of which Thomas will receive $33.75 million for bringing the case forward as a whistleblower under the False Claims Act. Counsel for the plaintiff, is John Thomas, of Healy Hafemann Magee in Virginia.
According to the lawsuit, Thomas was working as a lab analyst at Duke when he realized that one of the university’s most valuable projects, which documented the lung functions of mice, was submitting falsified data in an effort to secure grants. The fraudulent data earned grants from major institutions for its continuation, including the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Thomas alleges that the submitted claims took place over several years, and were mainly lead by former pulmonary division clinical research coordinator, Erin Potts-Kant. The lawsuit explains that Potts-Kant’s position included the responsibility of validating the data of all completed experiments prior to any claims being submitted. However, Thomas alleges that this rarely occurred and instead much of the submitted data was entirely falsified.
“Potts-Kant engaged in systematic and near-universal research fraud,”, stated the lawsuit. It added that Potts-Kant often submitted fake data “in lieu of actually performing experiments.”.
The suit also notes that supervisors of Potts-Kant overlooked signs of fraud throughout the years that the study took place. Besides defrauding the government for over $1 million, the suit also notes severe complications this fraud has created in the scientific community.
With the falsified data, Potts-Kant was able to co-author 38 articles that were published in major scientific journals. Using the data documented in these pieces, other researchers cited the articles by Potts-Kant in a total of 417 articles for their own related research and experiments. Since then, 17 retractions of articles covering or related to Potts-Kant’s work have been made.
While the damage to the scientific community has already been dealt, thanks to Thomas coming forward with knowledge of the wrongdoing, it can be repaired. For his efforts in bringing this case to fruition, Thomas will receive over $33 million of the $112.5 million settlement.
To learn more about this case or the False Claims Act, visit the Jeff Newman Law Whistleblower Help Center and blog!