Autism Researcher Awarded $760K in Whistleblower Lawsuit

November 08, 2021

Judith Zimmerman Claimed the University of Utah Retaliated Against Her for Reporting an Unethical Release of Records

Judith Zimmmerman worked at the University of Utah’s Department of Psychiatry between 2005 and 2013. She was the principal investigator over a  $600,000 yearly grant to collect information about children with autism. This grant was acquired by Zimmerman prior to being hired by the university. In 2012, she brought up concerns to the university’s oversight offices that a statistician had released identifiable information about children with autism. The information was shared from two researchers who were not authorized to access that sensitive material. Soon after this encounter, Zimmerman was informed by the university that her yearly contract would not be renewed. She was also removed from her position as director of the Utah Registry for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Furthermore, she was removed as principal investigator over the $600,000 yearly grant. Due to these actions, Zimmerman filed a whistleblower retaliation suit against the university. Late last month, she was awarded $760,000 in damages by a jury. Judge Patrick Corum oversaw the case and determined that University of Utah had committed a discovery violation. Due to this error, Zimmerman was entitled to a default judgment. After his ruling, a jury decided the amount of damages Zimmerman should receive. However, this judgment may not be the end of this case. The Utah Attorney General’s Office stated that it disagrees with the judge’s ruling in Zimmerman’s case and plans to appeal. Additionally, the University of Utah has expressed disappointment in the verdict and is considering appealing the decision. In the meantime, April Hollingsworth, Zimmerman’s attorney, is thrilled. She stated that her client had been gaslighted by the university for the last nine years and views the verdict as a “huge victory.” Hollingsworth was also reported saying that a natural and just result of this litigation would be for Zimmerman to get her position back at the university. 

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