Regents of the University of California Smacked-Down by Jury

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Whistleblower verdict of $730,000 won by University employee for retaliation.

Stephen Danz & Associates is pleased to see that a huge verdict was returned in a recent California retaliation case, as reported by the National Employment Lawyers Association. Janet Keyzer vs. Regents was tried to a jury and resulted in a verdict of $730,000, according to her counsel.

Janet Keyzer was a doctoral student in the Nursing Department at the University of California, Davis and was also working there as a Nurse Researcher, a position directly related to her desired career in the medical field. Prior to 2007, Ms. Keyzer had worked in her position, while continuing her education for nearly 9 years. Her position as a Nurse Researcher allowed her various rights, such as reduced tuition and pension contributions, as well as being able to work directly in her chosen field. Ms. Keyzer’s husband, an IT analyst also worked on the same project.

One project to which she was assigned, was a joint effort between UC Davis and UC San Francisco. It dealt with pain management. Human trials had begun on local prisoner populations. Ms. Keyzer realized that the University was proceeding with human trials in an unethical manner. She objected to the illegal and unauthorized research, being conducted without the required informed consent or the necessary Institutional Review Board approval and oversight.

Ultimately, her objections and the subsequent investigation led to the shut-down of the entire project.

Once she had begun to voice her complaints through her designated chain of command, she began to feel the effects of retaliation almost immediately. Her husband was terminated without any explanation. Her work atmosphere became uncomfortable, as management began treating her poorly.

This led her to resign from the research project in protest. She emailed University officials that the management working on the project had created ethical and professional conflicts that she could not, in good conscious be a party to.

According to her counsel, Ms. Keyzer cooperated with the Review Board by providing documentation of the unlawful behavior taking place on the project. The information she provided led to a Cease and Desist order to stop the research.

Once the research stopped, Ms. Keyzer began applying for other positions which were open and available, but was denied. She hired counsel, fearing that she was being retaliated against.

After filing a grievance about the potential retaliation, the University offered Ms. Keyzer an alternate position. The new job was only short term, terminable at will, didn’t contribute to her pension, was not on her career path, was a non-nursing position, and didn’t offer reduced tuition for the classes she was taking. Apparently she was told that she couldn’t have a ‘career’ appointment because it was against policy, but that she should just rely on the good will of the University, as they would honor her career rights.

Negotiations over the new position lasted approximately three weeks, during which time Ms. Keyzer repeatedly asked that steps be taken to ensure that the ostracism and prospective retaliation she anticipated be addressed. She also asked that the administrators and academicians she’d complained about for participating in unlawful procedures be disciplined.

After those three weeks, she buckled under and agreed to accept the job, but was then told that it was no longer available and that her requests to avoid retaliation were unreasonable.

On December 21st, 2007 she was terminated retroactively to November 30, 2007.

She subsequently found work in the private sector within a few months of her termination, but the loss of her job and the retaliation she had suffered at UCD caused severe emotional and physical distress, including the dissolution of her marriage, the loss of future pension contributions, and the loss of her career. It also ended up adding significant time for her to complete her doctoral program.

For over seven years, Ms. Keyzer fought with the Regents of UCD. She did so not only because she had been harmed by the retaliation, but also to help protect others in her situation, who are aware of wrongdoing but afraid to come forward to oppose the giant multi-billion dollar organization. She also wanted to protect the UCD research programs and the integrity of their work. By not following proper procedures, and by ignoring the rules for compliance in human trials set forth by the Institutional Review Board, the program managers were essentially putting all UCD research programs in jeopardy and bringing all of their results into question.

Instead of being lauded as a civic minded watchdog, she lost her job, her career, her marriage, and suffered financial and emotional distress that no one should have to go through.

Ms. Keyzer and counsel brought suit under the California Whistleblower Protection Act and sued the Regents. The discovery phase of the trial lasted for years with the University doing everything they could to avoid liability, even resorting to underhanded tactics.

According to her counsel:

“At trial, the evidence showed that the University knew it was acting unlawfully and took steps to hide evidence. Documentary evidence included e-mails from high level officials instructing management and co-workers to avoid emailing because “Email is discoverable.” A manager in the matter wrote “This is headed in a bad direction as I thought it might. …I feel we’re way out on a limb here. We’re doing what we’ve been asked to do …, but we have no policy and procedures to back us up. Where’s our legal counsel?” In another exhibit, an involved researcher and professor wrote “I think it will be best to put (Janet) back to work, then lay her off in the usual manner, rather than under the current peculiar (and perhaps questionable) circumstances.” We also had emails that the University was simply trying to “placate” Janet Keyzer, and an email stating that “the strategy” backfired.”

The University did everything it could to try to ensure that the case never reached a jury. Prolonging the discovery phase, hoping that Ms. Keyzer would just give up, and a Motion for Summary Judgment that left the court scratching its head, saying that it was unable to even understand the arguments being put forth by counsel for UCD were just some of the tactics used. They also refused to produce certain witnesses for deposition, improperly obtained Ms. Keyzer’s medical records and the court records from her divorce proceeding, trying to shift blame to her. Finally, the court had had enough and five years after discovery had begun, the Court issued a ruling, ordering the University to turn over more than 1500 pages of evidence.

But the University wasn’t done yet, finally trying a particularly underhanded tactic of issuing a subpoena for Ms. Keyzer’s attorney shortly before trial. Luckily, backup counsel was available to actually try the case.

The case took 4 weeks to try. There were 17 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits. The jury heard all of the evidence and finally found that the University’s witnesses weren’t credible, and certain high level University officials lacked integrity. They ultimately issued a verdict for $730,000 against the Regents, putting an end to the 7 year ordeal.

This case is similar to a case filed by the law offices of Stephen Danz & Associates that resulted in an award of $650,000 in the matter of Chapman vs. Regents. That case involved harassment in the Chancellor’s office.

One thing these cases make clear is that going up against an enormous institution like the Regents of the University of California can be a nightmare. This stresses the importance of hiring qualified legal representation and making sure your attorney is an experienced employment lawyer.

Only an attorney, like Stephen Danz, with over 30 years of experience defending employees in California, can help effectively guide you through the choppy waters of employment law cases. He will meet with you, along with one of his senior associates at a location that is convenient to your work, school or home. With offices in ten California locations, he is always traveling the state, from San Diego to Northern California, meeting clients and attending court hearings and settlement conferences.

He was also named one of California’s Super Lawyers three years in a row. Contact our offices at (877) 789-9707 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free consultation today.

We look forward to defending your rights.