A federal judge has rejected the University’s request to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses Duke of major research fraud.
Brought by Joseph Thomas, a former lab analyst at the University, the lawsuit accuses Duke faculty and administrators of mishandling allegations of research misconduct. If successful, the University may be responsible for paying out close to triple the financial amount in question for its alleged actions, which could total up to $600 million.
In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles noted that the suit could expose Duke to damages and grant relief to the plaintiff. Eagles ordered the University and Thomas to begin preparations for trial.
The lawsuit centers around the actions of Erin Potts-Kant, a former University employee within the Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care department of Duke Health, who was arrested in 2013 for embezzling money from the University.
Thomas alleges that Potts-Kant manipulated data that she gathered from machines that researchers use to test lung function of mice to study respiratory ailments. That data and accompanying research articles were then used to secure additional research grants from the federal government, the lawsuit claims.
The more than 60 federal grants under dispute amounted to approximately $200 million.
The lawsuit adds that University supervisors—including former professor of medicine William Foster and Monica Kraft, former division chief of the Pulmonary division—were negligent in their supervision of Potts-Kant and ignored multiple warnings of misconduct.
Since Potts-Kants’ arrest, 16 of her publications—all of which featured other Duke researchers—have been retracted, according to the website Retraction Watch.
The lawsuit was filed under the False Claims Act, which allows "whistleblowers" unconnected with the government to file suit on behalf of the government in order to recover federal funds.
Thomas originally filed the lawsuit in November 2015. Federal prosecutors did not perform their own private examination of the lawsuit until August 2016, after which time its documents were unsealed to the public. In March, the lawsuit was moved from a federal court in Roanoke, Va. to the district court in Greensboro.
Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to comment on the matter.
View the judge's decision here:
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