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CIO exposes illegal snooping program, gets fired in retaliation

A former chief information officer for a clinical research recruiting company has filed a federal lawsuit against the company after he was allegedly fired in retaliation for reporting illegal conduct -- namely, the company's maintenance of a computer database to track the religion, political views and sexual orientation of applicants for jobs and clinical research studies.

In Nov. 2010, the man claims, Research Pharmaceutical Services put him in charge of the company's effort to achieve Safe Harbor certification. Safe Harbor is a joint program between the U.S. Commerce Department and the European Union that helps U.S. companies comply with EU law on the proper use of private information collected by corporations.

The essential principles promoted by the Safe Harbor are that people have the right to know what information is being collected about them, to challenge and correct that information, and to opt out of having the information collected. Additionally, those who choose to collect information are responsible for doing so openly, ensuring the information is accurate, and protecting it from being divulged inappropriately.

As part of the Safe Harbor effort, he hired PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC to assess the company’s data collection efforts, which led to the discovery of the database, which would not comply with Safe Harbor and would generally be considered problematic, if not illegal.

When he objected to the database, the lawsuit claims, the vice president of recruiting and COO told him that the purpose of the database was to use the applicants’ personal information in order to place them in the most appropriate positions. Moreover, the two executives ordered him not to divulge the existence of the database.

A month after the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit, the CIO was pulled from the project. On Jan. 31, 2011, he was terminated.

The former CIO believes he was both taken off the project and fired in retaliation for having reported illegal conduct. He is seeking compensation for his lost wages and benefits, along with punitive damages against the company for illegal retaliation.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Snoopy Program Wasn't Right, Fired Exec Says,” Kevin Koeninger, May 10, 2013

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