PHARMA company Randox has been sentenced to pay a researcher €25,000 for unfair dismissal after firing him for an experiment his boss said was forbidden.
The scientist said his supervisor simply told him not to use the stronger assay concentration at a later stage in the regulatory verification process. He also stated that his manager bullied him.
The Workplace Relations Commission upheld Paul Dunne’s wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Randox Teoranta in a decision released today – but held him 50 percent responsible and halved the compensation payment.
Mr Dunne said he was working on developing immunoassays – tests using antibodies to detect proteins that could indicate a specific disease in a patient.
He said he has autonomy in this research, while reporting to a line manager, in choosing which antibodies to include in his assay before they are “locked up” in the verification phase.
Before exiting the pre-verification phase, he could change the formula and introduce different elements to try to “get the most out of an assay”.
Mr Dunne said he had a good track record in his five years at Randox until October 2019 when he was assigned a new manager, Danielle Vance.
He worked on a particular assay under supervision for about two years, he said.
On January 29, 2020, at a meeting, Ms Vance told him to use a 0.5 mg concentration of an antibody conjugate called CA15-3, which targets a marker for cancer, and not the 0.7 mg version, he said.
However, he went ahead and did a test with the 0.7mg version of the conjugate anyway and told Ms Vance as much.
He told the commission that the experiment was still in the pre-verification phase and he felt it would have been wasteful to “throw the conjugate in the trash” when it could be used for other experiments or for quality control.
He recorded the test results and wrote “test only, do not use for verification” on the report, the commission was told.
James Stewart, Randox’s in-house counsel, told the commission that the tumor surveillance project Mr Dunne was working on is a cancer test, it falls in a “higher risk category” and is subject to “enhanced scrutiny” by regulators.
Mr Stewart said use of the 0.7mg formula would have created inconsistency in the research and could have led to “adverse regulatory outcomes”.
“By deciding not to follow the direct orders of his manager, the impact could have had serious financial and reputational consequences for the Company and for the individuals for whom the assays were designed to diagnose,” said Mr. Stewart.
He said Ms Vance viewed this as “grave disobedience” and a “grave breach of trust in his role as a scientist”.
In a submission on behalf of the complainant, Rory O’Brien said: “There was no risk of regulatory approval and the complainant did not personally benefit from his conduct.”
He said his client had had a “history of difficulties” with Ms Vance and had faced “a series of inquiries” in the four months since she was appointed his manager.
“None of them resulted in a positive finding that the complainant had committed any wrongdoing,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said his client was suspended on February 14, 2020 without an inquiry taking place – an “extreme” step normally reserved for serious misconduct before all the facts have been established.
“It caused immense reputational damage to the complainant,” added Mr O’Brien.
He said Randox failed to investigate a formal complaint by his client against Ms Vance for bullying and harassment and pushed forward a disciplinary proceeding that he said was procedurally unfair.
Mr O’Brien said the complaint should have been investigated to assess whether Ms Vance was “fair or overreacted”.
Instead, he said, after calling for his client’s suspension, Ms Vance was allowed to conduct the initial investigation and had “a significant impact on her outcome” and the decision to fire Mr Dunne.
Mr Stewart said Randox alleged Mr Dunne committed gross misconduct and that the dismissal was procedurally fair.
He said Mr Dunne was only “recommended” by his HR department not to contact other employees and that the firm changed investigating officers at Mr Dunne’s request without any prior involvement in the matter – adding that he also had the opportunity was offered address.
In his decision, assessing officer Shay Henry found that there was no doubt that Mr Dunne had failed to follow the instruction not to use the 0.7mg formula.
However, he pointed out that Randox’s concerns about a potentially adverse regulatory finding had focused on the use of the 0.7 mg formula “during product review”.
“[Mr Dunne] stated that he did not view the instruction as a pre-verification phase test,” Mr Henry wrote.
“This evidence is supported by the fact that he made no attempt to hide the fact that he tested the product. He also made the appropriate records of the test he performed, including that it should not be used for verification,” he added.
Randox “quickly recognized the inappropriateness” of appointing Ms Vance to investigate allegations against Ms Dunne when she was the one who made them, Mr Henry wrote.
The new investigator, Damien McAleer, “reached on some of the material already collected without starting the process over,” he wrote.
Evidence presented at the hearing indicated that Mr McAleer was “unaware of the distinction … in relation to testing at the pre-verification and verification stages” and failed to meet with Mr Dunne, the judge added.
“Had he done that, I think that position would have come to light. I therefore conclude that this is a critical flaw in the investigative process,” Mr Henry wrote.
He said the wording of Mr McAleer’s report, which concluded that there had been “grave disobedience” and a “breach of trust,” suggested that it “went beyond an inquiry into the facts.”
“The investigator had reached a conclusion as to the applicant’s guilt without giving him an opportunity to explain his actions,” Mr Henry wrote, suggesting that Mr McAleer’s opinion might have been different had he accepted Mr Dunne’s position would have heard at the various stages of research.
He added it was “hard to see” how the fact that the research is at an earlier stage doesn’t soften the company’s decision to fire Mr. Dunne.
“I therefore conclude that the decision to dismiss the applicant was not reasonable and that he was wrongly dismissed. The applicant’s conduct contributed significantly to his dismissal and I have reduced the amount of compensation by 50 per cent,” Mr Henry wrote.
He demanded that Randox pay Mr Dunne €25,000.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/pharma-firm-randox-ordered-to-pay-scientist-25000-over-unfair-dismissal-relating-to-experiment-row-41499295.html The pharmaceutical company Randox has to pay the scientist 25,000 euros for unfair dismissal in connection with a series of experiments