New allegations arose in a whistleblower complaint formally filed on Tuesday, May 5, by a federal scientist who says he was removed from his post late last month for expressing doubt in the effectiveness of a drug President Donald Trump endorsed as a COVID-19 treatment.
As discussed in our earlier blog, it was widely reported on April 22 that Dr. Rick Bright – former director of a Health and Human Services (HHS) project to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – was removed from his post for what he attributes to his reluctance to accept the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against the disease. Bright’s skepticism ran against President Trump’s March 21 touting of the drug on Twitter as a “game-changer,” encouraging it “…be put in use IMMEDIATELY.”
Bright’s whistleblower complaint states that he endured “indifference which then developed into hostility” by HHS leaders after raising concerns in January about the country’s preparedness for the coronavirus. USA Today reported that Bright claims he met with White House officials in early February to continue urging preparedness for the coronavirus, specifically emphasizing the need to acquire N95 masks and increase production of other personal protective equipment.
CNN reports that Bright’s attorneys are arguing that his removal amounts to a Whistleblower Protection Act violation due to his participation in numerous protected activities.
Bright’s complaint, however, reaches beyond the scope of COVID-19. It cites alleged events as far back as the spring of 2017 when Bright says was urged by a pharmaceutical consultant to renew a contract with Aeolus Pharmaceuticals, Vanity Fair reports. As part of his justification for why what Bright saw as a failed contract should be extended, the consultant – John Clerici, a friend of Bright’s former boss Dr. Robert Kadlec – cited that the drug company’s CEO was a friend of President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
As Bright’s whistleblower complaint was just filed, it’s unclear how far it will go or if it’s being given proper attention. Stories about COVID-19 lockdown protests and reopening the economy are dominating the media ecosystem at the moment, but this is an issue that deserves just as much attention due to its potential impact on other federal workers.
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The unprecedented circumstances presented by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 are presenting new challenges for workers everywhere, but by no means have you lost your employment rights. If you believe you were subjected to unlawful treatment in violation of employment laws against discrimination or whistleblower retaliation, seek legal assistance from our attorneys.
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