Former research director appeals court dismissal of retaliatory firing case

Editors’ note: This case was dismissed on Jan. 30, 2015

Updated: Oct. 22, 2014 at 1:47 p.m.

A former research director is appealing a court’s dismissal of his case, which claimed GW retaliated against him after he complained about an attempt to illegally handle federal research funds.

John Lombardi filed an appeal last week after a D.C. District Court judge dismissed his claim that he was fired after he tried to tell his boss that a deputy director was attempting to improperly control at least $5 million in anti-terrorism research grants.

In the original lawsuit, filed last October, Lombardi said he received funds to run an anti-terrorism research project. He alleges that in 2012, then-Deputy Director of GW’s Homeland Security Policy Institute Daniel Kaniewski attempted to take over the project.

Lombardi, the former leader of GW’s Center for Preparedness and Resiliency, then brought his concerns to Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa, as well as GW’s Office of General Counsel. He was fired weeks later, and the lawsuit claimed it was an act of retaliation.

He reported that the government, one of the partners of the project, was not notified that Kaniewski would be involved in the project, which would have violated federal law. Lombardi asked the court for $75,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress.

Kaniewski, who in 2012 accepted a job offer at the federally funded research center the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute, said he did not know about Lombardi’s allegations when he left GW. He had spent 12 years at the University as a student, administrator and faculty member.

“The judge rightly dismissed this frivolous lawsuit, which amounts to nothing more than a disgruntled former employee’s attempt to secure personal financial gain,” Kaniewski said. “I will continue to assist the University with its efforts to confront these bogus charges.”

Lombardi’s lawyer, Lynne Bernabei, said they are filing an appeal because the “opinion was flawed.”

When Lombardi was fired from the University, his anti-terrorism research project was cancelled, Bernabei said. She said the judge ignored a new addition to the False Claims Act that protects whistleblowers if they call attention to a problem before the potentially illegal action occurs.

“The law says if you make a report of a potential false claim, and your report causes there not to be a false claim, you’re still protected under the law,” she said. “[GW] really shot themselves in the foot because there’s no work to be done now.”

Bernabei said the University never tried to settle the case out of court, and that the appeals process, which would begin in the winter, would take about a year.

Rosemary Collyer, the judge in the case, said in her decision that Lombardi “has not alleged an objectively reasonable basis to believe that GW would have submitted a false claim or certification.”

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to comment, citing the University’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Lombardi claimed Kaniewski had improperly handled anti-terrorism research grants. Lombardi claimed that Kaniewski was attempting to improperly handle the grants – not that he actually did. We regret this error.

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