Former postdoc files suit against University

A former postdoctoral researcher at the Yale Medical School has filed a suit against the University, her supervisor and a former postdoctoral fellow over what she alleges was deliberate tampering with her research.

Magdalena Koziol, who was a postdoc researcher at the Yale School of Medicine from June 2011 to March 2013, filed the suit in early February. Koziol claims that the University and Koziol’s supervisor acted improperly upon discovering that another postdoctoral fellow had poisoned the fish Koziol was studying, destroying more than nine months’ worth of research. Koziol’s suit targets the University, former postdoctoral fellow Polloneal Ocbina — who was found guilty by the University of tampering with Koziol’s research — and Koziol’s supervisor, genetics professor Antonio Giraldez, who the suit says created a hostile work environment for Koziol after Ocbina left the University.

In the suit, Koziol claims that Giraldez and Yale breached their contracts with Koziol for postdoctoral work in a range of ways, including “willfully, intentionally and recklessly failing to properly investigate the scientific misconduct, threatening [her] with termination, … intimidating her … denying her any written confirmation of the incident, threatening to destroy her [and] failing to carry out the grievance procedure in a reasonable period of time.”

University Spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale is not guilty of any wrongdoing.

“Dr. Koziol’s claims against Yale and professor Giraldez are factually distorted and legally baseless, and the University will mount a vigorous defense,” Conroy said.

According to Conroy, Giraldez and Yale Security took the tampering with Koziol’s research “very seriously.”

Giraldez and Medical School Dean Robert Alpern both declined to comment on the suit. Koziol and Ocbina could not be reached for comment last week.

Yale made its first court appearance pertaining to the suit in late February. Ocbina first appeared in court on March 10 in New Haven.

The complaint lays out a complex series of events involving emails and personal conversations that Koziol claims constitute wrongdoing on the part of all three defendants.

According to the complaint, Koziol first noticed that her experiments were failing, inexplicably, in July 2011, only one month into her tenure at Yale. In particular, batches of fish she was attempting to raise as part of her experiment repeatedly died. Sometime after August 2011, Koziol divided her fish into two groups. One set was labeled with her initials, while the other was not. The fish in the box with her initials died, while those left unmarked did not, according to the suit.

After a hidden camera was installed in the lab with Alpern’s approval, it was discovered that Ocbina had poisoned the fish. Upon being confronted with the evidence, Ocbina admitted to tampering with Koziol’s research and was either terminated or resigned from Yale on March 8, 2012, the complaint states.

This, according to the complaint, is when Giraldez and the University’s wrongdoing began: Giraldez did not permit members of his laboratory to discuss the incident, threatening “legal consequences” if they did. Furthermore, the complaint claims, Giraldez began treating Koziol “in a harsh, critical and abusive manner.”

Conroy said Giraldez asked members of his lab not to discuss the information surrounding Ocbina’s departure because of Connecticut laws protecting the confidentiality of certain employment information.

Before filing the suit, Koziol brought the matter before an internal Yale grievance board as well as the Office of Research Integrity, a branch of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Neither body found any culpability on the part of Giraldez or Yale, according to Conroy.

Koziol claims she never received the grievance committee’s final report, or any documentation from Yale regarding Ocbina’s sabotage of her research.

Koziol is now conducting research at the Gurdon Institute — a lab run by Nobel laureate John Gurdon — at the University of Cambridge, where she completed her doctoral work.

According to a March 7 article in the journal Science detailing Koziol’s case, publicly known incidents of sabotage in scientific research are few and far between. According to Science, the most recent disclosed incident in the United States of such tampering occurred in 2010 at the University of Michigan, when a postdoc killed the cultured cells of another researcher.

While at Yale, Koziol’s research focused on molecular changes at the earliest stages of life.

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