- In what is being hailed as a major victory for workers
in the biotech and nanotech fields, a former scientist with pharmaceutical
firm Pfizer has been awarded $1.37 million for being fired after raising
the alarm over researchers being infected with a genetically engineered
- Becky McClain, a molecular biologist from Deep River, Connecticut,
filed a lawsuit against Pfizer in 2007, claiming she had been wrongly terminated
for complaining about faulty safety equipment that allowed a "dangerous
lentivirus" to infect her and some of her colleagues.
- The Hartford Courant describes the virus as "similar
to the one that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS."
Health experts testified that the virus has affected the way McClain's
body processes potassium, which they say causes McClain to suffer complete
paralysis as often as a dozen times per month, the Courant reports.
- McClain's lawsuit (PDF) asserted that Pfizer had interfered
with her right to free speech, and that she should have been protected
from retaliation by whistleblower legislation.
- Pfizer challenged her assertion, claiming McClain only
started complaining about safety problems once her employment was terminated,
the Associated Press reports. Pfizer also claimed to have investigated
McClain's claims about safety violations and found them to be untrue, according
to the New London Day.
- On Thursday, a jury in a US District Court in Connecticut disagreed
with Pfizer, granting McClain the $1.37 million, as well as punitive damages,
meaning the total amount could be much greater.
- The WorkersCompensation.com Web site says the ruling
is being "considered the first successful employee claim in the biotech
and nanotech industry."
- Workers' rights advocates are pointing to the McClain
lawsuit as "evidence that risks caused by cutting-edge genetic manipulation
have outstripped more slowly evolving government regulation of laboratories,"
reports the Courant.
- McClain's lawsuit says she was exposed to the experimental
virus repeatedly between 2002 and 2004, and when she lodged complaints
about it, her supervisor said he would "falsify her future performance
reviews and he told her they would be negative, and he threatened her in
an aggressive fashion following the plaintiff's repeated complaints regarding
safety. He forcibly backed the plaintiff into a wall during one encounter."
- 'TOO BIG TO NAIL'
- A report at CNN about a separate legal matter involving
Pfizer states that the Department of Justice considered Pfizer to be "too
big to nail" in an investigation of the company's illegal marketing
of the painkiller drug Bextra.
- CNN reports that, if Pfizer had been prosecuted over
the drug, the company would have been excluded from doing business with
Medicaid and Medicare. But because federal officials considered the company
too big to be exempted from working with the government health programs,
a dummy corporation -- Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc. -- was set up, and that
dummy corporation then pleaded guilty to the crime.
- "P&UCI sold no drugs and had no real employees,
and its creation was simply a figleaf to allow a Pfizer entity to take
the rap without harming Pfizer itself," explains Jim Edwards at the
Bnet business blog.
- Pfizer is the world's largest drugmaker, with annual
revenue around $44 billion.
- Alan Cantwell M.D.
- author of, AIDS & The Doctors of Death
- and Queer Blood