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Posted on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 2:05 p.m.

Whistleblower trial: Jury rules in favor of the University of Michigan

By Juliana Keeping

A Washtenaw County jury decided in favor of the University of Michigan today, rejecting a former graduate student's claims that the university halted his assistantship unfairly last year after he reported alleged safety violations.

After deliberating for about six hours on Monday and today, the jury ruled there was no cause in the lawsuit and didn't award anything to Robert McGee, 54.

David Masson of U-M's Office of General Counsel said the jury found McGee was not discriminated against by U-M.

Jurors discussed the trial in Judge Archie Brown's chambers for about an 90 minutes after the verdict was read. They declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

McGee sued the U-M Board of Regents for unspecified damages under the state Whistleblower's Protection Act.

McGee was a research assistant in the nuclear engineering program and was told his services were no longer needed in a neutron science lab on Feb. 20, 2008. He said that occurred four days after he reported that Michael Hartman, the professor who oversaw his work, potentially committed safety violations. McGee testified Hartman entered another professor's lab without her permission, not knowing whether a highly radioactive source was active.

Hartman, an assistant professor with the U-M College of Engineering, testified McGee repeatedly missed deadlines on a lab project and was unresponsive to e-mails and phone calls that attempted to set goals toward its completion. The troubling pattern of behavior was the primary reason the student was relieved early of his duties as a graduate student research assistant, he said.

Christine Green, an Ann Arbor attorney who represented McGee, did not return a call from today.

The trial started Nov. 9.



Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 7:11 a.m.

@kam I was present in the courtroom every day and I am sure that the jury took this very seriously. I respect the jury's decision on the law. I still think there is a wider issue for the University, which is did they treat this student fairly. The chairman testified that he warned Dr. Hartman that he was concerned that he was spending too much time on completing the lab at the expense of doing research to acheive tenure but there were more than three years that Robert McGee was spending a lot more time on a project that was not his thesis project and when he falter in classes, such as taking two incomplete grades, he was not told to spend less time on building the lab. There was an email, I think it was in 2005, from the administrator that oversaw the graduate students warning his supervisors that they should be careful not to let him spend too much time on the lab, at the expense of his coursework but they kept pressuring him to finish the lab anyway. That may not be a legal argument for a whistleblower case but it should still be of concern to the people at the University who supervise the graduate programs.


Thu, Nov 19, 2009 : 12:52 p.m.

As a juror on this case, you would have had to have been there to hear all of the evidence presented not just going with what you've read or heard. This was taken very seriously and we feel that the correct decision was made. any time any of you were welcome to come to court and listen to what was presented. Court is open to anyone, everyday.


Wed, Nov 18, 2009 : 8:13 p.m.

@flalaw97 Actually when Bob had a 50% appointment he asked to be reduced to 25%, expecting that would reduce his hours on the project but it only succeeded in reducing his pay but he was still spending 20-30 hours a week on constructing the lab


Wed, Nov 18, 2009 : 11:37 a.m.

If they want to get rid of you, they will....


Wed, Nov 18, 2009 : 11:24 a.m.

Bellhelmet, I agree on the documentation, e-mail has made that a little easiser, as opposed to checking off that you got the memo.Clearly, there was personality rift, which at the end of the day you are not going to resolve.


Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 11:07 p.m.

We need to respect the jury's judgement that the plantiff did not prove the connection between his reports and his firing but I don't think the NERS department should be very proud of what they did. They assigned Robert McGee a huge project that no other graduate student would ever have been given. You can get an idea from this Wikipedia entry; When the project began to interfere with his coursework and when he tried to reduce his committment to 10 hours a week, they kept him working 20-30 hours a week on the project. When Dr. Harman arrived he increased the pressure to finish on deadlines. At the same time, Dr. Martin the department chairman testified that he told Dr. Hartman not to spend too much of his time on the project for fear that it would interfere with his tenure. Who was looking out for the student? The University was successful in convincing the jury that there was enough friction between Dr. Hartman and Bob McGee before his reports that the University prevailed but the University should have had more concern for their students education rather than building a Neutron Science Lab on the cheap.


Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 4:12 p.m.

Man, that last paragraph is so telling of the decline of society "unresponsive to e-mails and phone calls." Get up and walk to the work station.


Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 3:58 p.m.

As predicted, Bulldog Masson defended the U. and won in a knockout.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 2:49 p.m.

Is there more to this story? Protecting whistle-blowing seems like it should be reserved for more serious ethical charges.