A Medical University of South Carolina molecular biologist is suing the school and one of its deans because he says he wasn’t given the lab space that was promised to him in the new Drug Discovery Building on campus.
Deepak Bastia filed a lawsuit in circuit court Tuesday alleging breach of contract and fraud against MUSC and Medical School Dean Etta Pisano. He wants a bigger lab space and the university to pay him back for the grant money he’s lost since he was forced to move out of his old lab last year.
“I’m not looking for anything personally, just for research,” Bastia said. “It is very important to me. We do this for pride and we do this for the love of science. If your (research is) delayed by even six months, that’s a huge blow because it’s highly competitive.”
In 2001, when Bastia came to MUSC from Duke University, he was assigned a 2,400-square-foot lab space on the fifth floor of the Basic Sciences Building, outfitted with “warm and cold rooms” necessary for his research.
Those were the good old days, he said.
Now, his lab is located in a space roughly half that size in the Drug Discovery Building, which opened in 2011. It’s much smaller than the 2,500-square-foot space school administrators promised him back in 2006 when plans for the new building were drawn up. Since Bastia moved into the new lab in October, he has been unable to conduct research because there’s no room to even unpack, he said. The lawsuit characterizes the lab as “unsafe and unsuitable.”
Bastia conducts cancer research at the university. In 2011, he published a report on a phenomena called “chromosome kissing,” and how chromosomes affect DNA replication.
At this time, he said he cannot estimate how much grant money he has lost since October. The lawsuit does not name a specific dollar amount.
Bastia blames Pisano for his current plight. He says the dean retaliated against him when he complained and refused to allow him to remain in his old space in the Basic Sciences Building.
“She is a very difficult person,” he said.
Court papers say she acted “erratically and maliciously in derogation of the rights of faculty members and researchers, and she has attempted to intimidate faculty members and researchers who protest her erratic and malicious behavior.”
Pisano did not return a call or email for comment about the lawsuit.
MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said in a statement, “MUSC College of Medicine takes seriously the needs and concerns of all faculty in supporting their work, and there are processes and procedures within the College to assign research space to faculty. We cannot comment on this specific matter due to pending litigation.”
Bastia filed a formal complaint with the university provost in January, but he said MUSC has not addressed the issue internally and he was compelled to file the lawsuit.
“It is very serious,” he said. “Somebody had to do something about this.”
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.