PerkinElmer suing whistleblower over Valencia COVID-19 lab allegations

PerkinElmer signs lease on building, pictured on Oct. 8, 2020, located at 28454 Livingston Avenue in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

A former manager of the Valencia COVID-19 testing lab is being sued by the operator for breaching her contract after she accused the company of poor performance. 

PerkinElmer filed a lawsuit Monday against Mahnaz Salem, alleging that she “emailed herself PerkinElmer’s proprietary information in violation of her confidentiality agreement” and “accepted a job with a different competitor laboratory” just three days after she started working with PerkinElmer, according to the case. 

She left the company 24 days later in early February. Efforts to reach Salem for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. 

The operator is a Massachusetts-based diagnostics company tasked with increasing California’s daily COVID-19 tests by 150,000 via its $1.4 billion contract with the state at the industrial building on Livingston Avenue

The lawsuit alleges that she breached her contract after she “unlawfully and improperly” forwarded to her personal email information such as “COVID-19 testing results, testing procedures and protocol, and testing equipment capabilities and performance.” 

PerkinElmer tried to resolve the issues of Salem’s alleged theft prior to seeking legal action by providing her with a deadline to destroy all proprietary information she had obtained. After not hearing back from her, the company filed the lawsuit, according to attorneys. 

“As a result of defendants’ wrongful conduct, PerkinElmer has been and will continue to be damaged by the actual and threatened loss of its business and proprietary information,” read the lawsuit, adding that the company wants the court to order Salem “to stop unfairly competing with PerkinElmer, to prohibit use of PerkinElmer’s trade secrets, and to prohibit further unauthorized access to its computer systems or related data.”  

The lawsuit comes after Salem and other lab workers publicly shared allegations about improper work at the Valencia lab, alleging lab technicians were sleeping, COVID test swabs were found in restrooms, a lack of documented competency and a high number of inconclusive tests, according to a news report aired earlier this month by TV station CBS13 in Sacramento. The legal case does not mention the aforementioned allegations. 

California Department of Public Health laboratory experts were then deployed to the testing facility to investigate the allegations, state officials confirmed Feb. 8. 

On Monday, the Health Department’s Laboratory Field Services Division, which regulates laboratories statewide, said it found “significant deficiencies” in the Valencia facility during a routine December inspection when it first opened. 

The state added that out of 1.5 million tests performed, the Valencia lab has issued corrected reports of about 60 (0.0039%) samples and has been unable to test approximately 250 (0.017%) samples due to lab errors. 

PerkinElmer officials said Monday “that the deficiencies identified by (Laboratory Field Services Division) have long since been resolved.” 

“We uphold the highest quality and safety standards across all of our operations, and we have already addressed the issues that emerged in the early days since the Valencia testing site was established, despite just receiving the formal report from the December inspection,” Prahlad Singh, PerkinElmer’s president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. 

PerkinElmer has until March 1 to respond with how it has addressed or plans to address the laboratory’s initial challenges after receiving the deficiencies from the state on Feb. 19. 

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