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San Francisco settles toxicologist's wrongful termination suit

San Francisco has agreed to settle a lawsuit by the man who had once been its chief toxicologist for $100,000.

The toxicologist filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination after he claimed that he resigned rather than participate in an unlawful act as his employer instructed. In effect, he argued that he was the victim of a constructive discharge.

According to the lawsuit, the chief toxicologist discovered that one of the other forensic toxicologists did not meet the legal requirements under California law to be allowed to analyze drunk driving tests. He reported the problem with the other toxicologist's credentials to the medical examiner's office -- only to earn a sharp rebuke from its deputy director for overstepping his own job.

He was then told by his superiors in the medical examiner's office to ignore the issue and assist the unlicensed toxicologist with the tests being performed on drunk driving cases. He was further instructed to nominate the other toxicologist for certification despite the toxicologist's professional and academic shortcomings. He refused and resigned rather than participate in what he believed was an illegal act.

Since then, the other toxicologist has apparently prospered -- he's the individual who now serves as the new chief of toxicology. When the issue of his lack of authority to perform certain drunk driving evaluations reached the ears of the city's Public Defender, the city's District Attorney offered a rather curious justification for the integrity of the testing currently being done. He stated that the new chief toxicologist merely oversees the testing he isn't qualified to perform. Since he isn't actually performing the testing, there's no cause to question the accuracy of the results.

This case is a great example of how an individual can sometimes be forced to choose between ethics and employment. In this case, the toxicologist chose to protect his professional integrity and reputation rather than obey his superiors. If you are ever in a similar situation, it may be wise to discuss the situation with an attorney -- particularly if you hope to pursue a wrongful termination case as the result of a constructive discharge.

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