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UVA Researcher Awarded Damages in Grant-Altering Case

A
UVA researcher was awarded a huge $800,000 victory by a federal jury after
having been found to have been fired for reporting his supervisor altered a
National Institute of Health grant awarded to the researcher
. Filing under the
False Claims Act and Whistleblower Protection Act, Weihua Huang claimed he was
fired after telling supervisors the laboratory supervisor changed figures that
would determine how much grant money was paid to lab staff members.

Huang
was awarded $160,000 in back pay, $500,000 in compensation for non-economic
damages, and could be awarded future lost wages or reinstated at the discretion
of the judge. According to the suit, he applied for and received $378,750 grant
from NIH to support his research on the genetics of nicotine addiction. Huang
later discovered his supervisor had modified his level of effort and assigned a
lab technician’s time to the project even though the technician performed no
work on the project.

When
Huang reported the changes, UVA officials told him the amount overcharged would
be reimbursed to NIH. He claims the reimbursement never occurred. Huang was
later informed that he was facing immediate termination due to “lack of
compliance” with an earlier notice that precluded him from using laboratory facilities
and that informed him his research contract was not being renewed.

UVA maintains that Huang was let go because he
and the lab supervisor has irreconcilable personal differences. Huang’s
attorney, Adam Carter, said the case was special because very few False Claims
Act cases actually make it to trial. Additionally, he said the grant community
would be pleased because grant money is traditionally assigned based on effort as
determined by the lead investigator (Huang) and here that responsibility was
improperly taken over by the lab supervisor in contrast to accepted practice.