Former Post-Doctoral Student Files Lawsuit Against University, Supervisor, and Fellow, Alleging Sabotage of Experiment and Hostile Work Environment

A former postdoctoral researcher at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut has filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract against the university and her former supervisor, along with several tort claims. Koziol v. Yale University, et al, No. NNH-CV14-6045144-S, complaint (Conn. Sup. Ct., New Haven, Feb. 24, 2014). The plaintiff alleges that a postdoctoral fellow, also named as a defendant, tampered with her experiments, and that her supervisor and the university retaliated against her after she reported the misconduct and the fellow was disciplined.

The plaintiff was a postdoctoral researcher at the Yale School of Medicine when the acts described in her complaint occurred. She received a three-year research grant in 2010, and was offered a postdoctoral fellowship position by Antonio Giraldez, an associate professor of genetics at Yale, in April 2011. The one-year fellowship was renewable annually up to four years. The plaintiff alleges that her acceptance of this position created a contract between her, Giraldez, and Yale. She began working at Yale on June 1, 2011.

Giraldez’s lab provided her with zebrafish for use in her experiments. Beginning in July 2011, her experiments began failing because her fish kept dying for unknown reasons. She obtained approval fto install a hidden camera in the lab in January 2012. Camra footage reportedly showed that another postdoctoral fellow, Polloneal Jymmiel Ocbina, had been poisoning her fish. Ocbina reportedly admitted to the sabotage, and either resigned or was fired in March 2012.

After Ocbina’s departure, the plaintiff claims, Giraldez began “treating [her] in a harsh, critical, and abusive manner.” Koziol, complaint at 8. He also allegedly refused to provide her with documentation showing that her fish had been poisoned, which she needed to explain more than nine months of research results lost because of the sabotage. She claims that Giraldez retaliated against her for complaining about her concerns in an email to him, and that he criticized and “isolated” her for a “lack of results” for the next year. Id. at 10.

Giraldez notified her by letter dated February 27, 2013 that her fellowship would not be renewed. She characterizes this as termination, and she left the lab in early March. She moved back to the United Kingdom with her grant, but was without funding for seven months.

The plaintiff requested to initiate a grievance proceeding with the university in the fall of 2012, and also requested documentation regarding the sabotage. Ten months later, in July 2013, she received notice of the grievance committee’s conclusion that the university and Giraldez had “acted appropriately” except for failing to document the sabotage. Id. at 15-16.

The lawsuit names Yale, Giraldez, and Ocbina as defendants. It asserts causes of action for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against Yale and Giraldez. She alleges that Giraldez violated various duties regarding dealings between professors and postdocs, and that the university violated its duties in its handling of the grievance procedure. The complaint also claims trespass to chattels and conversion against Ocbina, and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress against all defendants. Her monetary damage claims include the loss of her grant, loss of two years of research time, damage to her reputation as a researcher, and loss of work opportunities.

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