Saturday, April 17, 2010
Deep River scientist and former Pfizer employee Becky McClain has won her lawsuit against pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer. The jury awarded McClain $1.37 million and unspecified damages to cover the costs of her extensive lawsuit.
McClain has alleged that, while working at Pfizer’s Groton Laboratory, she was exposed to a bioengineered virus that has caused her severe health problems, including bouts of temporary paralysis as often as 12 times a month. The virus in question, known as a lentivirus, has been demonstrated to share many characteristics with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
McClain further alleged that Pfizer wrongfully terminated her employment in 2005 when she began to raise questions about lax workplace safety in the laboratory. She claimed that she and a coworker were both made ill from an uncontained gas, which was the result of lax safety protocols and faulty equipment. McClain further stated that her supervisor warned her not to make an issue of the safety conditions, saying it could lead to her firing. McClain claims this was an attempt to violate her protections under whistleblower laws.
Pfizer has denied McClain’s claims and has expressed disappointment in the results of the case. The company claims that the facts do not bear out McClain’s allegations. They argue, for example, that she was terminated for failure to show up to work before her whistleblower claims were even filed. They also claim they are very careful about workplace and researcher safety, citing OSHA compliance inspections and other factors. The company is currently considering its options for appeal.
Yet, this case does raise other issues, such as the unfortunate reality that frequently today’s laws are designed to address yesterday’s problems. Technology continues to develop more quickly than legislation regulating it can be passed. This means that there is a very real chance that modern workplace hazards are technically legal under current regulations while in actuality they are unacceptably dangerous. Whether this is currently the case at Pfizer is unknown, but suits such as McClain’s do bring the issues to light so they can be debated and, hopefully, properly addressed.