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Court Orders Penn to Pay Up

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered the University to pay $2.9 million to Dr. Jorge Ferrer, professor of microbiology and director of clinical studies at the School of Veterinary Medicine, for violating his employment contract and destroying his cancer-research program. Although the state’s Superior Court had thrown out a $5 million jury award by Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, the Supreme Court reversed that decision. Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala wrote that the high court had “little difficulty” in deciding that Penn had indeed breached Ferrer’s employment contract and caused him “substantial lost opportunity.” But it reduced the award from $5 million to $2.9 million, the estimated cost of rebuilding the program.

Ferrer sued the University in 1993 after he was disciplined for a 1990 experiment in which a group of lambs was injected with HTLV-1 (human leukemia virus). The lambs, which had ear tags indicating they were being used in an experiment, were kept in a flock at New Bolton Center. A veterinarian in charge of the animals permitted a group of children to pet the lambs, and veterinary students performed invasive surgical procedures on them. Both events took place without Ferrer’s knowledge or authorization.

Although a faculty committee had concluded that Ferrer was not guilty of misconduct, then-dean Edwin Andrews prohibited him from conducting or supervising research on HTLV-1 or any other human pathogens for two years. The effect of the sanctions, Zappala wrote, was “devastating,” and the research program was “completely shut down.”

A University spokesperson issued a brief statement saying only that Penn was “disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision and that the Superior Court’s decision was “correct.”

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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 02/28/03