Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ethics Board probes 'reprisal' accusation at ULL primate lab

The state Board of Ethics is investigating a complaint that a supervisor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's primate research lab retaliated against an employee who reported alleged violations of federal animal care standards.
The board is "exploring" allegations that Johnny Hardcastle, head of Animal Resources at ULL's New Iberia Research Center, may have violated the state ethics code by subjecting former center employee Narriman Fakier "to acts of reprisal," according to a letter sent by the Ethics Board to an attorney representing the university.

An Ethics Board attorney declined to discuss details of the case, but Fakier filed a lawsuit against the university in February alleging that she was forced to resign in early 2004 after complaining of mistreatment of animals at the center.

Steven Dupuis, who is representing ULL and Hardcastle in the matter, said the ethics complaint is "going to be hotly contested."

The letter states that the board has already conducted a preliminary investigation of the complaint in September and has ordered a public hearing. A public employee found to have violated the Code of Governmental Ethics can face a fine, suspension, demotion or termination. No hearing date has been set.

Primates at the New Iberia Research Center are used in pharmaceutical and medical testing.

Fakier, who worked for two years as a coordinator and animal facility manager at the center, said in the lawsuit that her repeated complaints of alleged violations of animal care guidelines were not acted upon.

Fakier alleged that center Director Thomas Rowell told her that her "concerns would not be addressed by NIRC, and, if she had a problem with that, she should quit."

Among some of Fakier's specific allegations: the center violated guidelines for anesthetizing animals, roaches and mice infested primate housing, an employee burned the paws of some chimpanzees with a lighter, another chimpanzee was doused with scalding water and some animals died after being left in outdoor cages during the winters of 2002 and 2003. ULL has commented little on the allegations but has said that Fakier's claims were investigated and that the university was "pleased with what was learned."

Story here.

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