Professor sues UC Davis over forced retirement following misconduct inquiry

Ishwarlal “Kenny” Jialal

Last year, a professor brought a suit against his former university after it forced him to retire. Now, he’s adding defamation to his list of allegations.

In a lawsuit filed July 14, 2016, Ishwarlal “Kenny” Jialal, a cardiovascular researcher who worked at the University of California, Davis Medical Center from 2002 to 2016, alleges the school breached the separation agreement that led to his ouster. The university forced him to retire following a misconduct inquiry in which he was cleared of wrongdoing, and later stripped him of emeritus status. Before a trial date could be set, Jialal decided he wanted to add to the list of allegations; in an amended complaint filed Oct. 23, 2017, he says individuals at UC Davis badmouthed him to a potential employer and cost him a job.

Jialal is seeking unspecified monetary damages, an order that would rescind the separation agreement that led to his departure, injunctive relief, and attorney’s’ fees and other costs related to the suit.

A spokesperson for UC Davis told us:

The University generally denies allegations contained in Dr. Jialal’s First Amended Complaint, and specifically denies that any representative of UC Davis defamed Dr. Jialal, interfered with his prospective employment, or breached the separation agreement. […] Information about the discipline which led to Dr. Jialal’s agreement to resign from UC Davis in 2016 is in the public domain, not because of any actions by University representatives, but as a result of his own conduct in sharing documents related to his discipline with outside parties, including with Retraction Watch.

Ripple effects from retraction

Jialal left UC Davis in June 2016 after a faculty panel suggested he retire. The school had investigated him twice in recent years. The first inquiry focused on research misconduct and plagiarism in a review paper in Nutrition News that has been retracted; he was cleared after his co-author confessed to plagiarism. The second investigation, which spurred his departure, centered on his conduct in the aftermath of the misconduct inquiry, and found that he had sent threatening and unprofessional emails to the co-author who confessed, something Jialal does not deny.

The UC Davis spokesperson noted that Jialal has testified in a deposition that he shared documents related to the investigations with Retraction Watch.

Though the panel had suggested Jialal be allowed to retire with emeritus status, former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi stripped those privileges from a proposed separation agreement. Jialal signed and submitted the separation agreement on Feb. 24, 2016; however, the lawsuit says that the signed agreement was:

obtained through duress, fraud, and undue influence that was exercised by [UC Davis].

The complaint notes that Jialal was on 50 percent medical leave at the time the negotiations happened and alleges that UC Davis rushed him into signing it, even though the school knew he was not yet receiving legal counsel.

After Jialal signed the separation agreement, Katehi resigned following a suspension and investigation over misconduct allegations that included nepotism and misappropriation of student funds. Among the charges, according to the Sacramento Bee: Katehi had received $420,000 while serving on the board of directors of John Wiley & Sons, the publisher of the journal that had retracted Jialal’s review article. Wiley publishes more than 1,600 research journals.

Jialal has seized on this to allege that Katehi had a “serious conflict of interest” that UC Davis did not disclose to Jialal. He claims that Katehi’s involvement with Wiley’s board should have prevented her from being involved in disciplining him and that he wouldn’t have signed the separation agreement if he had known about it.

Last year, UC Davis spokesperson Dana Topoursis told us that the conflict of interest allegations were “without merit.”

We reached out to Jialal’s attorney, Patricia Kramer of California firm Neasham & Kramer (a UC Davis alumna), to ask why they believe Katehi’s Wiley connection will allow them to challenge the separation agreement. She has not responded to several phone calls asking for comment on the lawsuit.

UC Davis’ response

In response to our questions about the lawsuit, a university spokesperson told us:

The retraction of the article in Nutrition News in 2012, which occurred with Dr. Jialal’s consent, had nothing to do with his departure from the University.

In November 2016, UC Davis filed an answer to the first complaint in which it said it “generally denies each and every allegation” and asked for the case to be dismissed. A court spokesperson told us that the request for dismissal has not been addressed.

A new complaint

Since hiring Kramer earlier this year, Jialal has expanded the lawsuit to include allegations of defamation and “tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.” Translation: UC Davis cost him a different job.

According to the recently amended complaint:

From February 2016 through present, Defendant has sought out ways and means to interfere with [Jialal’s] livelihood to retaliate against [Jialal]…

Beginning March 2016, Jialal applied and interviewed for a position at Touro University, California in Vallejo. He said that on May 20, he was offered a 40 percent appointment as a professor, set to start in July 2016, and he accepted. But soon after, things started to fall apart. Allegedly, the Touro dean told Jialal that his references at UC Davis stated:

that Dr. Jialal “had committed research misconduct and had been required to return monies to the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) as a result of his misconduct” or words substantially to that effect.

Neither investigation has said Jialal committed research misconduct or that he would be forced to return grant money.

On July 13, 2016, the Touro dean told Jialal that the school couldn’t hire him and would look to other candidates to fill the position.

In the suit, Jialal accused one UC Davis professor of making the statements about the research misconduct finding and grant money; Jialal also alleged that two other professors, maybe more, also “made similar oral and/or written statements to representatives of Touro University.”

The suit says that the statements were false, that the defendants knew they were false, and that the statements cost him the job at Touro as well as speaking engagements. Moreover, Jialal says that some of the defendants have continued to defame him.

Jialal is now a professor at California Northstate University.

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