A former University of California Davis administrative nurse who sued the university for retaliating against her when she blew the whistle on an unethical research project received a $730,000 jury award.
Janet Keyzer, a nurse for three decades with a Ph.D. in human and community development, filed her whistleblower complaint in June 2010 in Sacramento Superior Court, alleging her career was destroyed after the university took a series of retaliatory actions against her.
The plaintiff worked as a researcher for the UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research for more than nine years before she was allegedly fired in November 2007. Her whistleblower allegations stem from a pain-management project she began work on in December 2006.
The Community Oriented Pain-Management Exchange Program (COPE) used physically and mentally disabled prison inmates at San Quentin prison as its human subjects. Ms. Keyzer claimed in her lawsuit that the project collected medical data and records from the inmates without their permission, also bypassing the required approval of the university’s Institutional Review Board, which must review all research proposals involving human test subjects.
Ms. Keyser reported the ethics violations to her supervisor, but soon found herself “ostracized by COPE management and others at the center,” her lawsuit states, while the project manager became “hostile, abusive and rude” to her.
The COPE manager then fired Ms. Keyzer’s husband, Ken Keyzer, who worked part-time providing technical support to COPE. The termination prompted Ms. Keyzer to report COPE’s activities to the Institutional Review Board in June 2007. According to her lawsuit, the board reviewed her concerns and “confirmed the improprieties Ms. Keyzer identified.”
That same month, the Institutional Review Board issued COPE a cease and desist order, shutting down its prison project. The Institutional Review Board then took a series of corrective actions that included suspending the principal investigator’s current studies, suspending that official’s status and title, establishing a mandatory training program, and referring the matter to the Academic Personnel Office.
Despite her efforts – or possibly because of them – Ms. Keyzer received a layoff notice from the University in December 2007. According to the Sacramento Bee, Ms. Keyzer filed an internal complaint concerning the alleged retaliation the following month and her whistleblower lawsuit in June 2010.
“I think people need to know this was an extremely important case for nurses everywhere, and more importantly, medical researchers,” Ms. Keyzer’s Sacramento-based lawyer told the Sacramento Bee. “It’s scary to make a complaint. It took a lot of courage for Ms. Keyzer to pursue this case.”