Whistleblower Files Federal Lawsuit Against University of Texas Medical Branch; Asserts UTMB Abusing Animals, and Breaking Federal and State LawsPosted on February 11, 2016
For immediate release
GALVESTON – The former attending veterinarian and executive director of the Animal Resources Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch filed a whistleblower civil suit against UTMB in U.S. District Court here Thursday, alleging violation of his civil rights and wrongful termination under the Texas Whistleblower Act because he refused to “engage in or support the continued violations of the Animal Welfare Act.”
Dr. Brian Gordon, who was hired in March, 2013 by UTMB and fired June 9, 2015, said in the filing that he was fired because he refused to “engage in illegal activity” at UTMB, including financial fraud, and hiding animal abuse, and deaths from the university’s Internal Animal Care and Use Committee, the U.S. Dept of Agriculture and other government oversight agencies.
“Plaintiff refused to engage in or support the continued violations of the Animal Welfare Act (and) the Texas Penal Code regarding cruelty to nonlivestock animals (and) the Texas Penal Code regarding tampering with a governmental record. Instead Plaintiff insisted on carrying out his statutory duties as Attending Veterinarian by ensuring the provision of adequate veterinary care at UTMB’s research facility,” according to the lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified damages.
The filing details illegal and dangerous actions by UTMB – which studies infectious diseases – including an incident where eight of 12 monkeys in a Marburg virus study died unexpectedly and the deaths went unreported. That incident, said Dr. Gordon, came to light following a National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) audit in January 2015. The audit report identified animal welfare concerns within the program.
According to Dr. Gordon, UTMB officials “never shared the results of the NIAID audit with Plaintiff, despite the fact that federal law required Dr. Gordon to oversee all aspects of animal welfare.” The lawsuit states that “details regarding the health of monkeys in Defendant’s care had also been hidden from Plaintiff.”
Dr. Gordon said he had believed these animals had been humanely euthanized…when in fact the injected animals had been allowed to suffer the pain and distress of dying. “This occurred in direct violation of the study’s protocols, the standards set forth in the AWA,” said Dr. Gordon, who asserts the animals died without euthanasia and went unreported as required by law.
The lawsuit notes that in 2014 Dr. Gordon had been warned he’d be fired “if he continued raising concerns regarding procedures affecting animal care.” Then in late 2014 Plaintiff was “written up for speaking out against procedures and practices he believed put animal health and safety in jeopardy.”
The lawsuit claims Dr. Gordon “later learned there had been a longstanding practice of hiding the true cause of animal deaths” at UTMB, which conducted research on monkeys involving Ebola and other lethal pathogens. That practice of hiding animal deaths and preventing the Attending Veterinarian and IACUC from investigating those deaths violated approved protocols and federal requirements under the AWA.
“Once Plaintiff learned what was going on, he refused to keep the information secret,” said the suit. Dr. Gordon is represented in the lawsuit by the Silverman Law Group, the Law Office of Jennifer D. Ward, PLLC, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.