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U.S. Office of Special Counsel

1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 300

Washington, D.C. 20036-4505

U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL ANNOUNCES FAVORABLE SETTLEMENT OF WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT AGAINST DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS 


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 9/19/00
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
(202) 653-7984

    The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced the favorable settlement of a whistleblower complaint filed by Dinah K. Bodkin, Ph.D., a former Research Health Scientist for the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, West Roxbury, Massachusetts. 

    Dr. Bodkin filed a complaint with OSC alleging that the VA Medical Center had not renewed her term appointment because she disclosed her belief that another laboratory researcher had engaged in scientific misconduct when he submitted a scientific paper for publication that he allegedly knew contained false representations. Dr. Bodkin made these disclosures to her immediate supervisor, who was also responsible for supervising the researcherís work, and who had jointly submitted the manuscript for publication. Dr. Bodkin later made the same disclosures to Harvard Medical School because of its association with the VA Medical Center. Shortly thereafter, her supervisor advised her that her term appointment would not be renewed when it expired.

    Dr. Bodkinís disclosures led Harvard to form a panel to investigate the allegedly questionable research and the supervision of that research. The Harvard panel ultimately concluded that the researcherís record keeping practices were ďdeplorable,Ē but that they did not rise to the level of scientific misconduct. The panel, however, found that Dr. Bodkinís immediate supervisor knowingly published a paper about which serious ethical questions had been raised. It faulted the supervisor for not fulfilling his duty as a principal investigator to see that the conclusions drawn by the researcher were fully supported by the primary data prior to submission for publication. It concluded that the supervisorís failure to immediately return to the authorís data for a careful and rigorous review was ďunconscionable.Ē As a result of the Harvard investigation a warning letter was issued to Dr. Bodkinís supervisor.

    OSC investigated Dr. Bodkinís allegations and determined that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Dr. Bodkinís term appointment had not been renewed because of her protected whistleblowing. Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan sent a Report of Prohibited Personnel Practices to Togo D. West, Jr., Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, outlining OSCís findings. Kaplan requested that the VA provide full corrective action to Dr. Bodkin, including reinstating her to a similar research position and providing her with backpay, related benefits, and attorneyís fees. 

    Thereafter, Dr. Bodkinís complaint was resolved through a mutually acceptable settlement agreement providing what OSC deemed to be full corrective action. Harvard joined in the settlement agreement because of its affiliation with the Medical Center, and because, in addition to filing her complaint with OSC, Dr. Bodkin had initiated legal action against Harvard in the state court system. Neither the VA Medical Center nor Harvard admitted to any wrongdoing or liability.

    Attorneys for Dr. Bodkin, Denise A. Chicoine and Edward S. Englander of Englander & Chicoine, stated, ďThe OSCís thorough investigation and commitment to prosecute was a tremendous contribution to the overall settlement of Dr. Bodkinís claims against the VA and Harvard Medical School.Ē  Dr. Bodkin commented that she was ďdeeply grateful to the OSC for having persisted over four years in pursuit of her claim. In stark contrast to the Harvard senior faculty, OSC distinguished fact from fiction, and its report of Prohibited Personnel Practices is what finally compelled the VA and Harvard to resolve my claims.Ē 

    Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan stated, ďDr. Bodkinís case demonstrates the Office of Special Counselís commitment to obtain full relief for whistleblowers in meritorious cases. It also shows that, even though term employees do not have a right to be reappointed, it is unlawful to base a decision not to reappoint them on their protected activity.Ē Special Counsel Kaplan complimented the Department of Veterans Affairs for its cooperation in settling the case without need for litigation.

    The U.S. Office of Special Counsel receives, investigates, and prosecutes before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board charges concerning the commission of prohibited personnel practices, including reprisal for whistleblowing. OSCís investigations frequently result in the favorable settlement of complaints without litigation.

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