The UW-Madison last year agreed to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by a former employee of the Wisconsin Regional Primate Center who was allegedly fired for raising concerns about the "cruel and improper treatment" of rhesus macaque monkeys at the facility.
"I felt some of the animals...really suffered," said Jennifer Hess in a deposition that remains part of the federal court case file. Among the problems, she testified, were "improper monitoring, unnecessary pain and distress."
Hess worked at the center as an assistant research veterinarian from December 2001 until she was terminated in April 2002. The case settled last August, but the terms were first revealed this month, in response to a records request from Isthmus. The settlement requires the center, which was represented by the state Attorney General's Office, to pay $150,000 to Hess for lost wages and $110,000 to her attorneys. The defendants "specifically deny any wrongdoing"; both sides are barred from "initiating disclosure [of the terms] to any media representative." (For this and more, see Document Feed at thedailypage.com.)
The court file includes a thick stack of deposition testimony, much from primate center employees unsympathetic to Hess. They allege that she "behaved unprofessionally" and "had problems with interpersonal relations." Center director Joe Kemnitz says he fired Hess for fear that "others might leave the center if they were going to be required to continue to work with Dr. Hess."
But e-mail communications show Hess took a respectful tone in asking questions and raising concerns about animal care; this was not always reciprocated. Shortly before her termination, she complained about monkeys being left for hours in a room that was "well over 90 degrees." A colleague responded that it was merely a "malfunctioning thermostat" and admonished her for sending "alarming messages."
In her depositions, Hess said her suggestions for proper animal care were sometimes "met with derision." Researchers pushed her to change veterinary records and "on more than one occasion" altered the records themselves. She also felt pressure to approve "inherently unethical" experimentation on ailing animals.
Once, when Hess wanted a monkey to regain some weight "before it went back into experiment," she said a researcher snapped, "If you don't let me put her into experiment, I'm going to headcap another animal," from the center's colony of 1,300 "non-human primates." Headcapping, Hess explained, is a "nasty procedure" in which the monkey's "skull is removed and the headcap is put in place of a skull and there's a hole in the top of the head."
In another case, Hess said a researcher objected to her efforts to treat a sick monkey. "She expressed that I should just, and I quote, just kill the monkey and send it to her to find out what the real problem is." Hess treated the animal, which "eventually got better."
Hess also describes her exchange with a researcher who experimented on a monkey to death: "I said to him, When did this happen? Why aren't you sure when the monkey died? He said because I was moving my car, since she hadn't moved much all day in the experiment. And I said, Why didn't you call me if she wasn't moving much all day in the experiment? And he didn't have a reply for that."
Mary Kennelly, Hess' attorney, says the UW, to its credit, conducted a review and changed some procedures "as a result of concerns she brought forward."