News Column

Appeals Court Backs Scientist in Pfizer Retaliation Case

Dec. 14, 2014

Lee Howard

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals refused today to overturn a $2.3 million verdict won by former Pfizer Inc. scientist Becky McClain, who claimed the company retaliated against her for raising safety concerns about conditions at the pharmaceutical giant's Groton laboratories.

McClain, according to a three-judge panel's decision released today in New York City, "presented sufficient evidence" to prove her claims that Pfizer "acted willfully, maliciously, or with reckless indifference." The appeals-court panel, which included former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, heard Pfizer's appeal in October.

McClain, a longtime molecular biologist at Pfizer's Groton laboratories who won a jury decision in U.S. District Court two years ago, claimed that she became dangerously ill after being infected by a virus at Pfizer's laboratories in Groton. She filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigated the claim but could not substantiate the safety problems, and was subsequently fired after taking a leave from work to fight her illness, which caused periodic paralysis.

Pfizer claimed that the former Deep River resident -- now living in Albuquerque, New Mexico -- was fired after abandoning her job.

McClain originally filed her lawsuit in 2006. In March 2010, an eight-person jury at U.S. District Court in Hartford decided that Pfizer should pay McClain $1.37 in damages for retaliating against her and interfering with her right to free speech, an amount that was increased by Judge Warren W. Eginton when he added in attorneys' fees and punitive damages.

The other members of the three-judge panel deciding the appeals case were Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs and Circuit Judge John M. Walker Jr. McClain was represented by Bruce E. Newman of Brown, Paindiris & Scott LLP and Stephen J. Fitzgerald of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Richardson, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti P.C.

Source: (c)2012 The Day (New London, Conn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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