SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Following a CBS13 investigation into the state's COVID testing lab and its $1.7 billion contract with PerkinElmer, the company is now effectively suing a whistleblower who spoke to CBS13 and indicating it may sue others.
The CBS13 investigation began with one whistleblower and quickly evolved into many who came to us with allegations about the state's new COVID testing lab that they say pose a significant risk to public health.
CBS13 obtained documents that back up the allegations, which whistleblowers reported to us and, in some cases, to regulators. They say their prior complaints to management were ignored.
Most of the whistleblowers asked that we conceal their identities out of fear of retaliation, but former lab manager, Dr. Manahz Salem agreed to show her face. She reached out after seeing our initial reports and, like many, confirmed the allegations.
"I really want the public to know that this lab should not continue operating like this," Dr. Salem said.
Now PerkinElmer is suing Salem along with 25 other unnamed defendants who they can choose to name later.
The lawsuit was filed Monday, the same day that the state announced it had found "significant deficiencies" at the lab during a December inspection.
The lawsuit alleges Salem emailed herself proprietary information in violation of a confidentiality agreement, alleging she, and the unnamed defendants, are using "proprietary information to PerkinElmer's competitive disadvantage."
In Salem's case, the lawsuit alleges she took trade secrets and accepted a job with a competitor. It alleges the other "defendants are responsible in some manner for the (same) actions or inactions."
Though, the lawsuit acknowledges PerkinElmer doesn't know who the other defendants are.
Whistleblowers insist that the documents revealed in the CBS13 investigation are of no value to PerkinElmer's competitors. Instead, they say the documents expose lab practices that pose a risk to public health.
"The public deserves to know what's going on in their state lab and everybody deserves to have correct results," whistleblower Mary said.
"Every patient sample deals with somebody's life," stressed a whistleblower whom we're calling Beth.
Whistleblowers are protected under state and federal regulations and several say they have filed official complaints.
Some say they filed complaints with the federal Office of the Inspector General because they don't trust the state's investigation.
Several whistleblowers say they believe the lawsuit is an intimidation tactic to keep more people from speaking out. Dr. Salem insists the case has no merit.
We asked the California Department of Public Health Wednesday if it will allow PerkinElmer to sue employees who filed whistleblower complaints and if the agency supports this lawsuit against CDPH lab employees who voiced concerns about a risk to public health.
The agency said, "CDPH is reviewing the lawsuit and has no further comments."
Just one more reason, whistleblowers say, that they want an independent investigation of the CDPH-PerkinElmer policies, procedures, and COVID test results.
WATCH THE CBS NEWS SACRAMENTO SPECIAL REPORT
THE COVID LAB: State Secrets Exposed
This 30-Minute Special Report is the culmination of 14 months of reporting that prompted state and federal investigations, resulted in , and shined a spotlight on shocking public health failures that it appeared regulators
Following these reports, lawmakers introduced legislation that is intended to protect whistleblowers and ensure. The state ultimately with PerkinElmer.
STATE SECRETS: The Whistleblower Investigation
STATE SECRETS: The Troubled Test
STATE SECRETS: Continued Accountability
for more features.