Firing Over Howard U. Lab Conditions Gets Day in Court

A federal appeals court reinstated the retaliatory firing lawsuit by former Howard University researcher who said she was dismissed after objecting to the school’s inhumane conditions for laboratory animals.

The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled Monday, 2-1, that Dr. Sylvia Singletary raised sufficient evidence that her firing was in retaliation for her complaints about research conditions at the Veterinary school and should be allowed to go ahead with the case.

Singletary, complained internationally and externally to the National Institutes of Health that the school failed to maintain regulated heating or cooling to protect animals from extreme temperature. She maintained that the school labs allowed temperatures to far to high, well above safe temperatures in violation of the terms for federal grants and the Animal Welfare Act.

The conditions were cause by equipment failures and plant deficiencies, but her complaint to the person in charge failed to remedy the problems. She next took her concerns to the dean of the university’s medical school, but that failed as well.

Events came to a head in April 2014, when Singletary arrived at work to find 21 mice dead from heat exhaustion. Singletary then complained directly to NIH to report the rodents’ deaths and the loss of power overnight.

NIH then directed Singletary’s boss to submit a plan for corrective action and a short time later she was “excoriated” by her boss for reporting to NIH and was “incensed. She was fired a few months later.

Her lawsuit for wrongful termination and retaliation was dismissed based on the lower court’s finding that the University was unaware of her legally protected complaints.

The appeals court disagreed. Her suit was reinstated. The opinion was written by Judge Patricia Millett and joined Judge Sri Srinivasan.

In dissent, Judge Gregory Katsas said he would uphold dismissal arguing she failed to make out a claim that the University knew she was trying to stop violations of law.

Case: Singletary v. Howard University, No. 18-7158

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