Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has lost its bid to overturn a jury award of $2.3 million dollars to a former employee. The scientist says Pfizer fired her for speaking up about worker safety.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, let stand the award to Becky McClain.
The court said McClain, a molecular biologist, presented sufficient evidence at the jury trial to prove Pfizer retaliated against her speech regarding workplace safety.
At that 2010 trial, the jury awarded McClain $1.37 million. The judge increased the amount for attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.
One of McClain’s concerns was that Pfizer had exposed her to an unsafe lab in Groton, CT, leading to an illness that left her dangerously sick.
Pfizer disagrees with the court’s conclusion but “respects its decision,” the company said in a statement. The pharmaceutical maker is “evaluating its options,” which include an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Pfizer said it fired McClain because she abandoned her job.
An interesting side note: One member of the three-judge 2nd Circuit panel was retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has filled in on various U.S. courts during her retirement.
It’s been a long road for McClain. She became ill in 2004 and filed her lawsuit in 2006.
McClain also filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. After an investigation, OSHA said it couldn’t substantiate her claims of safety problems. McClain said OSHA didn’t have the staff expertise to determine lab hazards.
OSHA has said lab safety is an area in which it needs to improve.
(McClain v. Pfizer, U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, No. 11-3002-cv, 12/13/12)