Former Berkeley Lab employee sues UC Regents over race, sex discrimination

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Daniel Kim/File

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A former Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, employee is suing the UC Board of Regents over alleged violations of whistleblower rights and on counts of race and sex discrimination.

In spring of 2016, Yi Qu, who was hired to run the Air Conditioner Test Chambers at the lab, claims she started experiencing difficulties in the workplace, according to the complaint. Qu alleged that she was demoted twice, removed from her testing responsibilities and replaced with an “unqualified white male,” the complaint said.

In the complaint, Qu alleged that her term at the lab was not extended because the lab “falsely and pretextually” claimed a funding shortfall after the 2016 presidential election.

“She filed a whistleblower complaint,” said J. Gary Gwilliam, the lawyer representing Qu. They immediately terminated the employment and said they didn’t have any money, and that wasn’t true.”

John German, a Berkeley Lab spokesperson, said the lab did not wish to comment on matters relating to the ongoing litigation.

According to Gwilliam, Qu is filing her primary claim under a specific law that applies to the UC system called the California Whistleblower Protection Act, giving employees of the university the right to report alleged legal violations and threats to health without fear of retaliation.

Qu filed a separate complaint regarding race and sex discrimination. The complaint filed specifically referred to an occurrence in which Gregory Rosenquist, an assistant group leader at the Berkeley Lab told a group to “forget about damn Yi” during a teleconference.

“As an Asian woman, she felt that there was race discrimination,” Gwilliam said. “She stood up, … so they fired her.”

Gwilliam said he does not think the university is taking the case “seriously.” The Office of Institutional Assurance and Integrity’s investigation into Qu’s whistleblower claims found that it was likely that Qu did not make a “protected disclosure,” according to the complaint. Qu alleged that her discrimination complaints were never investigated in the complaint.

“In all of these cases they (the university) are required by law to do an investigation. … The people who did the investigation work for the university,” Gwilliam said. “Almost always the universities do these whistleblowing investigations — they are motivated to simply cover up and whitewash their wrongdoing. We will vigorously dispute the investigation.”

The trial will most likely take place within the next year and a half, according to Gwilliam, and the lawyer defending the university will be Robert Eassa from Duane Morris LLP.

Until then, Qu has found another job, but is being affected emotionally and financially by this case, according to Gwilliam.

“The claims are serious, and so far the university has kind of blown them off,” Gwilliam said. “She has suffered a lot of emotional stress. … She’s lost money.”

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.