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University of Virginia whistle-blower gets $819,000 jury award


A federal jury in Charlottesville, Va., has awarded $819,000 to an academic whistle-blower who charged he was retaliated against after he complained his mentor at the University of Virginia had misappropriated National Institutes of Health Funds.

The jury verdict in favor of Weihua Huang was reached Friday and announced by Mr. Huang's attorney Monday.

In addition to the university, named as defendants in the False Claims Act litigation was Mr. Huang's former mentor, Ming D. Li, and Bankole A. Johnson, chairman of the university's psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences department.

Mr. Huang claimed he was retaliated against after he complained about Mr. Li's misuse of federal research grants for a project on the genetics of nicotine and addiction.

According to the original complaint, which was filed in in August 2011, Mr. Li submitted false status reports in connection with the project so that he and a laboratory assistant could devote more time to other research projects while drawing on the National Institute of Health project's funding. When Mr. Huang complained of this, he was told his contract would not be renewed.

Mr. Huang's law firm, the Employment Law Group, said in a statement a later ruling by the judge in the case, Norman K. Moon in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, will determine whether there will be an additional award for lost future earnings or a requirement for Mr. Huang's reinstatement.

A university spokesman said in a statement that the university is evaluating the case and will have no further comment.