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Former professor claims retaliation in suit against UCI

Christina Schwindt said she exposed a problem with scientific research data and was subsequently harassed.

July 19, 2012|By Lauren Williams

A former assistant professor at UC Irvine is suing the university, saying she faced retaliation when she flagged data that she claims was falsified by researchers trying to prove a faulty hypothesis, according to her Orange County Superior Court lawsuit.

Dr. Christina Schwindt, 47, of Newport Beach says she faced retaliation, harassment and gender discrimination while working as a physician and researcher in the UCI School of Medicine.

She claims in her legal filing to have exposed "scientific misconduct." The subject of the research, however, was unclear from her lawsuit. Neither she or her attorney could be reached for comment.

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Schwindt is seeking damages of more than $25,000 for vacation pay, penalties for failing to pay her wages when she worked, emotional distress and legal expenses.

Schwindt, who worked as an assistant clinical professor in the pediatrics department at the UCI School of Medicine for more than eight years, alleges in her lawsuit against the university and the UC Board of Regents that the university feared losing a $20-million grant from the National Institutes of Health if the altered data came to light.

Her alleged discovery came in 2010, when a colleague was out sick, and she reviewed raw data for a project she collaborated on for publication.

She asserts in her July 13 filing that she found that the information recorded didn't jibe with the original research and she went to various supervisors before reporting the discrepancy to NIH.

Schwindt, who now works as a specialist in allergies and immunology at Children's Hospital of Orange County, also enumerated other violations of standard scientific practices that she saw in addition to the data she claims was manipulated.

A spokeswoman for U.S Department of Health and Human Services, where investigations into misconduct are sent after a preliminary investigation by NIH, would not comment on whether the department conducted an inquiry, citing privacy laws.

As a result of her alleged findings, Schwindt claims she was ostracized, ignored and harassed, left out of meetings and eventually denied access to data she collected for five years.

She was given more clinical hours, and was demoted in November 2010 to part-time faculty, she said in the lawsuit.

Her superior would joke about how easy manipulating information is in the digital age in front of her and others, according to her lawsuit.

The same supervisor told her he would "destroy her" and made her perform menial tasks sometimes without pay, she said in the lawsuit.

She was fired in July 2011, just before she was to see a patient, she said.

She claims she was fired without being given a reason and was never reprimanded. Prior to that, she said she had received outstanding performance evaluations.

The Medical Board of California shows no disciplinary action, malpractice settlements or administrative citations against her since her license was originally issued in 1997.

UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said she couldn't comment about the ongoing litigation, but referred to university protocol which states that UCs are committed to protecting whistleblowers.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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