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End in sight for OSU lawsuit

Dr. Kunal Saha’s discrimination and breach-of-contract lawsuit against Ohio State has entered its fourth year and it appears to finally be nearing an end.
The judge “should reach a decision by Christmas, I’d say,” said Joe Griffith, Saha’s attorney, in an interview.
Saha, a U.S. citizen from India, is a former assistant professor in the OSU College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, where he specialized in AIDS research.
He filed his initial suit in 2005 against the university and Children’s Hospital, which is a separate entity from OSU but partners with the pediatrics department. Saha sued in federal district court but he lost three months after filing the suit.
In 2007, he filed a similar suit in the Court of Claims. In May, the case went to trial. Judge Joseph Clark heard two weeks of testimony about Saha’s claims that he was denied tenure, stripped of his funding for AIDS research and unfairly fired.
Saha contends the university and hospital penalized him because he was spending considerable time in India pursuing a medical malpractice suit against the doctors who treated his wife, who died in India in 1998. The legal battles, well-publicized in Indian media, ended in August. Saha won a medical negligence civil suit against four doctors, and two doctors were convicted of criminal negligence. Saha said the compensation from the civil suit will be used to promote health care in India.
The university and hospital say he was fired because he wasn’t working enough, his AIDS research was foundering and not worth financing anymore, and his teaching was sub-par. OSU can’t be held responsible simply because Saha thinks he was wronged, court documents say. The university says Saha has no evidence that it made a wrong decision.
Saha, who worked at Columbia University before OSU, said he got his leave-of-absence documentation approved. But OSU said his prolonged absences in India, especially at the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002, showed the downward trajectory of Saha’s commitment to his job. He was hard to reach, OSU says, and it appeared that he was not adequately supervising his students back in Columbus.
The extended stay in India was necessary, Saha said, because the Indian Supreme Court requested his presence for the later criminal prosecution of the doctors in India.
Upon his return to OSU in late April 2002, his direct supervisor and main source of conflict, Dr. Philip Johnson, accused Saha of abandoning his job. From this moment on, Saha’s brief said, Johnson “initiated the steps to destroy Dr. Saha’s career and throw him out of OSU.”
After the May trial, the judge asked both Saha’s attorney and the university’s attorneys to prepare briefs. That was done over the summer but as recently as last month, Griffith asked the judge to allow Saha to add more doctors to the list of defendants who supposedly discriminated against him.
In Saha’s brief, he casts himself as an excellent researcher, one who has more papers published in high-impact journals than his colleagues who received tenure when he didn’t get tenure. He said he brought in more grants and had breakthroughs AIDS research.
Saha was the first in the department’s history to publish research in the highly ranked journal Nature Medicine.
The researcher started at OSU in June 1998, and at first he showed “extraordinary promise,” Johnson said in the brief. He received rave reviews his first three years at OSU. But as time went on, his research — which was his main responsibility — wasn’t sufficient. In addition, the breakthrough AIDS research “hasn’t been reproduced. And it just hasn’t stood up,” testified Dr. Christopher Walker, a prominent physician at Children’s Hospital.
Saha’s attorneys contend that in the world of scientific research, lack of replication sometimes occurs, and has happened to other researchers.
The university denies discriminating against Saha based on his national origin. There is no evidence and it doesn’t make sense that OSU would hire an Asian Indian man if they didn’t like foreigners, the brief said.
In addition, OSU said Saha isn’t comparable to the four doctors who came up for tenure when he did. They each performed a specialized service for the school, such as running a clinic or heading a core laboratory. Saha only did research, so he was not similarly situated as the others, according to the university.
Saha said that the university broke various technical rules in his denial of tenure, including not having enough faculty members in the pediatric department vote on his promotion and tenure application.
He appealed his denial of tenure and promotion in April 2005. In June, the Faculty Hearing Committee, which reviewed his appeal, found no procedural violations, but they were concerned with the low number of faculty voters. Only eight department members originally voted.
The committee found that although the low number was technically allowed, the process in itself is “inherently unfair.”
The department held a revote, and that time 26 members voted against Saha, and one voted for. He was fired from the university on June 30, 2005. He’s now employed, but Griffith would not say where.
OSU’s attorneys would not comment on when the litigation might end.
“We would never presume when a decision would be made,” said Kimberly Kowalski, spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the university.
Griffith said he couldn’t say exactly what Saha wants from the university, but did say he wants more than the previously reported amount of $150,000.

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