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Former Utah Professor Suits for Whistleblower Retaliation, Wins $760K

Judith Zimmerman, a former professor at the University of Utah, won $760,000 in damages in a jury trial after she sued the university claiming whistleblower retaliation.

The case was another example of how whistleblower retaliation can result in the perpetrator being subject to significant penalties for their actions.

Case background

Zimmerman had worked for the university’s Department of Psychiatry from 2005 to 2013, and was the principal investigator for a $600,000 yearly grant to collect information about children with autism. She had acquired that grant before being hired by the university.

In 2012, Zimmerman reported some concerns to the oversight offices at the university about a statistician who had shared personal information about children with autism to researchers who were not authorized to have access to that information. After reporting these concerns, University higher-ups told Zimmerman her yearly contract would not be renewed, and she was removed as principal investigator over the grant and from her position as the director of the Utah Registry for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. She also claimed she would occasionally be denied access to buildings during the end of her contract.

The lawsuit also alleges individuals later forged a document to give researchers permission o access the information. In addition, the University declined to provide an original copy of a key document tied to the case, claiming they no longer had the document, but a witness at the trial said she likely had it in her files and was never asked for it by the university, indicating the university did not make a good-faith effort in discovery.

The jury warded $135,000 in emotional damages and $625,000 in other damages.

There are federal statutes that protect whistleblowers from retaliation and wrongful termination. For more information about how to protect your legal rights when you experience retaliation after blowing the whistle on wrongful conduct, contact an experienced attorney at Kardell Law Group.

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