Duke University to pay $112.5 million to settle research misconduct lawsuit

Duke University to pay $112.5 million to settle research misconduct lawsuit

Duke University will pay $112.5 million to settle a research misconduct lawsuit filed against the university for acquiring federal research grants by using faked data. A former employee and whistleblower Joseph Thomas accused Duke University of submitting falsified data to acquire grants worth $200 million from federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). 

The fraud was discovered in 2013 when Erin Potts-Kant, a technician, researcher, and biologist at the Duke University, was fired for embezzling research funds. It was also discovered that she faked research data while she worked at Duke. After these claims were investigated, 17 of Potts-Kants’ papers were retracted. Thomas filed the lawsuit in 2016 against the Duke University, Potts-Kant, and Michael Foster, the director of the lab in which Potts-Kant worked. The lawsuit alleged that the university knowingly submitted the data fabricated by Potts-Kant between 2006 and 2018 for 30 grants from the NIH and the EPA. But Duke University claimed that they discovered the research misconduct only when Potts-Kant’s fraud was uncovered.

According to the US Justice Department, Thomas will receive $33,750,000 from the settlement amount, as he filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, a federal law that allows individuals not associated with the government to file suits against people who defraud the government. “Today’s settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice will pursue grantees that knowingly falsify research and undermine the integrity of federal funding decisions,” said Jody Hunt, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. This is one of the largest agreements reached with an academic institution.  

In a statement released by Duke, President Vincent E. Price stated that “We must accept responsibility, acknowledge that our processes for identifying and preventing misconduct did not work, and take steps to improve.” The university also plans to undertake several measures “to improve the quality and integrity of research conducted on campus,” which includes setting up an Advisory Panel on Research Integrity and Excellence.

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