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Bland-Collins v. Howard University

United States District Court, D. Columbia

February 7, 2014

KAREN E. BLAND-COLLINS, PH.D., Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Defendant

Filed: February 10, 2014.

Page 253

For KAREN E. BLAND-COLLINS, PH.D., Plaintiff: Nathaniel D. Johnson, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE JOHNSON LAW GROUP, LLC, White Plains, MD.

For HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Defendant: Alan S. Block, Dawn Star Singleton, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BONNER KIERNAN TREBACH & CROCIATA, LLP, Washington, DC.

For JANICE MCCAIN, Interested Party: Nathaniel D. Johnson, THE JOHNSON LAW GROUP, LLC, White Plains, MD.

Page 254

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Karen E. Bland-Collins, Ph.D. (" Bland-Collins" or " plaintiff" ) filed this action against Howard University (" Howard" or " defendant" ) on February 26, 2009, alleging retaliation in violation of the Federal False Claims Act (" FCA" ), 31 U.S.C. § § 3729 et seq, wrongful discharge, and national origin discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See Compl. [Dkt. #1]. Plaintiff subsequently amended her Complaint, dropping her national origin discrimination claim and adding a claim for breach of implied contract. See Corrected Second Am. Compl. (" Compl. II" ) [Dkt. #95]. Before the Court is defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. See Mot. Summ. J. [Dkt. #82]. Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, the entire record in this case, and relevant law, the Court DENIES defendant's motion with respect to plaintiff's FCA whistleblower claim and GRANTS defendant's motion with respect to plaintiff's claims for wrongful discharge and breach of implied contract.

BACKGROUND

In January 2006, Howard professor Loraine Fleming, Ph.D. (" Fleming" ), hired plaintiff, a professional statistician, to work for one year [1] as a research associate on a grant project awarded by the National Science Foundation (" NSF" ). See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute (" Def.'s Facts" ) [Dkt. #82-1] ¶ ¶ 1-3, 9; Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Facts (" Pl.'s Facts" ) [Dkt. # 88-1] ¶ ¶ 1-3, 9; Ex. 8 to Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (Declaration of Karen Bland-Collins, Ph.D.) (" Bland-Collins Decl." ) [Dkt. # 89-6] ¶ 2. The grant project, known as the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (" CAEE" ), was founded in 2002 with an NSF grant as a joint effort by Howard, the University of Wisconsin (" UW" ), Stanford University (" Stanford" ), and the Colorado School of Mines (" Colorado" ). See

Page 255

Def.'s Facts ¶ 3; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3. Fleming was the Principal Investigator (" PI" ) for Howard's team and had overall responsibility for Howard's contribution to the CAEE study. See Def.'s Facts ¶ 7; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 7.

Over the life of the grant--January 1, 2003 through March 31, 2010--NSF provided over $12 million in funding to CAEE. See Ex. 3 to Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (NSF Award Abstract No. 0227558) (" Pl.'s Opp'n" ) [Dkt. #89-6]. UW, as the lead institution, disbursed these funds to the other grantee institutions, including defendant. Def.'s Facts ¶ 5; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 5. As PI for the Howard team, Fleming was responsible for ensuring compliance with NSF's regulations pertaining to research misconduct.[2]

The CAEE study at issue in this case focused on engineering students' career paths. See Def.'s Facts ¶ 6; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 6. Data for the study was gathered from structured interviews of undergraduate engineering students. See Bland-Collins Decl. ¶ 9-10. Fleming hired plaintiff as a research associate " to analyze the data, to define the data to be used in papers, and to develop the research paper." Def.'s Facts ¶ ¶ 8, 14; Pl.'s Facts ¶ ¶ 8, 14. Plaintiff's position was funded with a supplemental grant ...


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