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Professor gets win against Ohio State in retaliation suit

TNS Regional News • Jun 25, 2014 at 11:36 AM

A U.S. District Court jury has found The Ohio State University liable for co-worker retaliation against one of its pharmacy-college professors, awarding her $513,368 in a verdict made public yesterday.

“I hope that it changes the culture there for future generations,” the professor, Sheryl Szeinbach, said of the verdict. “I first want to clear up my reputation and then go from there."

The jury’s award to Szeinbach stemmed from a complaint that a former OSU pharmacy professor, Rajesh Balkrishnan, made to Primary Care Respiratory Journal about an article Szeinbach had co-written and published in the journal in 2007. He said the article duplicated some information from another article she had co-written.

Balkrishnan emailed professors at other universities about the alleged duplication. When Szeinbach and her co-authors submitted a correction stating that they had been remiss in referencing their earlier work published in 2005, Balkrishnan emailed a link to an editorial on the correction to the entire college of pharmacy.

Three days later, he sent another email containing correspondence with editors of publications that published Szeinbach’s articles. The emails reportedly violated confidentiality provisions of the university’s research-misconduct policy.

A preliminary investigation by the university found that Szeinbach had reused a data set without a cross-reference to the previous publication. But the university ultimately told Szeinbach in 2009 that her specific action was “no longer prohibited” under a new university research policy.

In her lawsuit, Szeinbach claimed that the university inappropriately handled Balkrishnan’s allegation and applied its research-misconduct policy unevenly.

Whether Szeinbach or the university will pay her legal costs, which are expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, will be determined during a hearing at a later date. The university relied on legal counsel from the attorney general’s office for its defense.

The nine-member jury found that Szeinbach did not prove that the university had retaliated against her. She had said it did because of her support for a junior faculty member who is no longer employed by Ohio State.

In a statement, the university said it is considering an appeal of the verdict.

“We won on the core issue of whether we properly followed our policies in investigating” Szeinbach, the statement said, adding that what Ohio State was found liable for was “based on the conduct of a junior colleague of hers (Balkrishnan) who left the university more than five years ago. We disagree that Ohio State is responsible for that individual’s conduct.”


By Ben Sutherly - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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