Duke University to settle case alleging researchers used fraudulent data to win millions in grants

Science | AAAS | 11/19/2018 | Staff
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Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is on the verge of settling a case brought by a former employee who claims the university included faked data in applications and reports for federal grants worth nearly $200 million.

According to court documents filed last week in the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro, former Duke biologist Joseph Thomas, who sued the university in 2015 under a federal law that allows whistleblowers to receive as much as 30% of any payout, is waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice to approve the settlement. Thomas brought his case under the federal False Claims Act (FCA), which could force Duke to return to the government up to three times the amount of any ill-gotten funds.

Terms - Settlement - Hearing - December

The terms of the settlement are not yet known, but are expected to be disclosed at a hearing scheduled for 7 December.

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Universities have been watching the case with interest. FCA claims against universities have been relatively rare, and a hefty settlement could prompt other academic whistleblowers to file similar cases, although private universities might be more vulnerable than public institutions. Regardless of the final settlement, the Duke case sends “the strong message to private institutions … go back and look at your grants because otherwise you’re susceptible to a very large and ugly lawsuit that’s going to damage your programs,” says attorney Joel Androphy of Berg & Androphy in Houston, Texas, who specializes in FCA cases.

Suit - Thomas - Duke - Biologist - Erin

In his suit, Thomas alleged that Duke biologist Erin Potts-Kant—who has now had 17 papers retracted, including many that reported on work done with her supervisor, pulmonology research William Michael Foster—included fraudulent data in 60 grant applications and reports. Potts-Kant...
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