Indian American Inder Verma, the 70-year-old prominent cancer and gene therapy scientist, has been put on administrative leave by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and has launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, according to Sciencemag.org.
According to Dan Lewis, the chairman of the San Diego, California, institute’s board of trustees, the decision was made by board members yesterday and Salk employees were notified today through email.
Lewis wrote: “Recently, the Institute became aware of allegations concerning Dr. Inder Verma. Consistent with Salk’s policies governing workplace conduct, the Institute has undertaken a formal investigation that is being led by an independent outside party. We have also learned that Science is preparing a story about Dr. Verma and related allegations. Earlier this week, the reporter presented the Institute with information about her story that included claims the Institute was not previously aware of. We take these allegations very seriously and have expanded the scope of the investigation. Yesterday, our Board of Trustees met to determine an appropriate course of action. Effective immediately, Dr. Verma has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation. He will not be performing scientific or administrative roles on behalf of the Institute during this period.”
Verma, who has been working at Salk since 1974, denied the allegations in a statement issued by his lawyer.
“I have never used my position at the Salk Institute to take advantage of others. I have also never engaged in any sort of intimate relationship with anyone affiliated with the Salk Institute. I have never inappropriately touched, nor have I made any sexually charged comments, to anyone affiliated with the Salk Institute. I have never allowed any offensive or sexually charged conversations, jokes, material, etc. to occur at the Salk Institute,” he wrote.
According to Sciencemag.org three female senior scientists sued Salk last summer for gender discrimination calling the institute “an ‘old boys club’ that had systematically impeded their careers because they were women.”
At the time of the lawsuit Elizabeth Blackburn was the president of Salk and in December 2017 she unexpectedly announced she was retiring after just serving less than three years in office, according to The San Diego Union Tribune.
In a statement Lewis wrote, “it goes without saying that the past year has been a challenging one for us. It also has been a time for introspection and reflection, particularly as we have worked during this transition period to enhance our operations and ensure the Institute is well positioned to continue to lead the way in bold scientific discovery,” praising Verma’s contributions to the institute though he added: “Salk will not condone any findings of inappropriate conduct in the workplace, regardless of one’s stature or influence.”