Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Former Professor Sues Pitt over Termination

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Former Professor Sues Pitt over Termination

Article excerpt

A former professor alleges in a whisteblower lawsuit that the University of Pittsburgh retaliated against her after she suggested the university report the escape of two infected lab animals as exposure incidents.

Kelly Stefano Cole of McCandless was an associate professor of immunology and the associate director of regional biocontainment laboratory at Pittt. She began working there in 2008.

A spokesman for the university said he would not comment on pending litigation.

According to the complaint filed in January 2016 in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, Ms. Cole learned that a monkey infected with a select agent escaped its cage for several hours. Select agents, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are "biological agents and toxins that have been determined to have the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety, to animal and plant health, or to animal or plant products."

After learning about the incident, the lawsuit said, Ms. Cole questioned the university's biological safety officer, Molly Stitt-Fischer, about the outcome but was told it was an accident, not a safety violation.

Ms. Cole claims in the lawsuit that she then reviewed the university's official report on the incident and found it to be inaccurate, including that it claimed the monkey escaped for only a short duration when, she said, it was actually several hours.

"Any incident where an animal infected with a select agent escapes should be reported as an exposure incident," the lawsuit said.

Ms. Cole told Ms. Stitt-Fischer and Bill Yates, the co-director of the university's Research Conduct and Compliance Office, that the incident should be reported to the university's Environmental Health and Safety Department as well as to the National Institutes of Health.

The lawsuit said, however, that she was informed not to report it. …

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