A jury Monday rejected a lawsuit brought by a former Caltech scientist with an expertise in battery research, who alleged he was fired in 2016 for exposing misappropriation of funds from the Department of Energy.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for about four hours before reaching its verdict in the lawsuit brought in March 2017 by Farshid Roumi.
Roumi, a 39-year-old Iranian emigre, was a doctoral candidate at Caltech in 2004-10, according to his suit. The plaintiff worked as a postdoctoral scholar in 2010-14 and in 2012 co-founded Parthian Energy LLC with the goal of increasing the reliability and performance of rechargeable batteries, according to his court papers.
“They loved him,” plaintiff’s attorney Mark Quigley said of Roumi’s Caltech supervisors, when addressing the jury during opening statements. Quigley said the professors convinced him to stay at the institution rather than leave and work exclusively at his company.
Following negotiations with Caltech professor Michael Hoffman, Roumi agreed to transfer funding he received from the Department of Energy from Parthean to the school for the S-cell battery project, according to his court papers. In 2015, Caltech hired two researchers to work with Roumi on the project, but the plaintiff soon learned that they were working on unrelated projects under the direction of Hoffman, Quigley told jurors.
When Roumi objected to his assistants being used to help Hoffman while being paid with federal money meant for a specific use, he was met with delays and roadblocks in the S-cell project, Quigley said. Roumi was fired in July 2016 and his lab was shut down, according to Quigley.
But defense attorney Moez Kaba said Roumi’s goals for an improved rechargeable battery were unrealistic. He said others lost their job at the same time as Roumi and the reason was a loss of funding, not retaliation. In the interim three years, Roumi still has not completed the S-cell battery project on his own, Kaba said.
“This was a simply a project Dr. Roumi could not achieve,” Kaba said.
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