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May 30, 2014

Merrimack College sued by fired state chemist

Claims school withheld Chemistry degree

NORTH ANDOVER — A Marblehead woman, fired from the troubled Jamaica Plain state drug lab after investigators found that she did not have a degree in chemistry, is asking a judge to order Merrimack College grant her that degree, saying she completed all of its requirements.

Kate Corbett, who lost her job last November after a state Inspector General’s investigation revealed that her bachelor’s degree was in sociology, not chemistry, contends in a lawsuit that college officials promised to update her transcript after she completed additional work for a chemistry degree several years after her graduation, but did not.

Chemist Annie Dookhan, who worked in the same lab, was fired and later pleaded guilty to charges that she falsified lab results and lied about her credentials, touching off hundreds of motions for new trials by defendants convicted based on her testimony or reports.

In some of those cases, Corbett has been called to testify in new proceedings.

Jim Chiavelli, a spokesman for Merrimack College, said he could not discuss the lawsuit, citing the school’s policy against discussing ongoing litigation.

Corbett’s firing has now led to questions about her credibility, potentially once again affecting the outcome of those cases, her lawyers note.

“Because Merrimack refuses to bestow upon Ms. Corbett the chemistry degree which she has earned, it may be unjustifiably impairing her as a witness and correspondingly impacting criminal cases throughout the Commonwealth,” lawyers Tom Hoopes and Douglas Brooks wrote in the suit, filed Wednesday in Salem Superior Court.

In the wake of the Dookhan scandal, the state Inspector General’s office conducted an investigation that led to the discovery that the school had not actually awarded her a degree in chemistry, even though there is a note on her transcript that she had completed all of the requirements for one.

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