Consumer Fraud

Duke University Close To Settling Whistleblower Case

research test tubes Duke University Close To Settling Whistleblower CaseDuke University is nearing a settlement with the U.S. government that would resolve a False Claims Act lawsuit alleging the Durham, North Carolina university received nearly $200 million in federal grants with applications and reports that included fake data.

The settlement, which is expected to be disclosed in December, would bring to an end a lawsuit filed in 2015 by whistleblower Joseph Thomas, a former Duke biologist.

Mr. Thomas sued Duke on behalf of the U.S. government, alleging that Duke biologist Erin Potts-Kant faked lab data that found its way into multiple other studies and papers, which provided the basis for 60 federal grant applications and reports.

Duke University investigators probing Mr. Thomas’ whistleblower allegations found that Ms. Potts-Kant falsified and fabricated data that factored into nearly 30 medical research studies. Seventeen of the papers that Ms. Potts-Kant contributed to, including several that she worked on with her supervisor, have been retracted.

Mr. Thomas was a laboratory research analyst in the Pulmonary, Asthma and Critical Care Division of Duke University Health Systems and Ms. Potts-Kant was a clinical research coordinator in the same department.

Mr. Thomas filed the False Claims Act lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. after Ms. Potts-Kant was implicated in an unrelated embezzlement scheme at the university. He alleges Duke and some of its professors knowingly used the phony data to fraudulently obtain federal research grants. He also alleges they ignored warning signs about Ms. Potts-Kant’s work and then tried to cover up the fraud once that work raised suspicions.

Last year a federal judge rejected Duke’s motion to dismiss Mr. Thomas’ lawsuit. In the course of that those hearings, Ms. Potts-Kant admitted to falsifying data and Duke University admitted that it knew she had. According to Science, Duke acknowledged that the false data was knowingly used in its progress reports, updates on its research programs, and grant-extension applications submitted to the federal government.

The Duke settlement is pending approval by a federal judge in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of North Carolina.