Lawyer Says Plagiarism Label Ruined Her
(CN) - A Harvard-educated lawyer claims in Federal Court that her alma mater defamed her and ruined her career prospects by falsely accusing her of plagiarizing her submission to a law journal.
Megon Walker, a Harvard Law graduate with a doctorate in bioinformatics, says she had an exemplary academic record and promising career prospects before she was falsely accused of plagiarism.
"However, in the early spring of 2009, that future was destroyed by the wrongful actions of defendants including the Law School, acting through its Associate Dean and Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove, Administrative Board Chairperson and Dane Professor of Law Lloyd Weinreb, third-year law students Bradley Hamburger and Lindsay Kitzinger, and others not named herein," according to the complaint. "In violation of plaintiff's rights, these defendants acted together to falsely charge plaintiff with plagiarizing portions of a draft law article she had been writing for publication in the Law School's 'Journal of Law and Technology' ('JOLT'), one of the law journals operated at the Law School to publish scholarly work by students and other contributors. Plaintiff had worked on the draft. When it was nearing completion, the draft was badly damaged because the laptop computer on which she had saved the draft suffered a virus. Harvard disconnected her computer from the Harvard Network in order to quarantine the virus from spreading throughout the Law School computer system. The draft was severely damaged. It could thereafter be salvaged only in a fragmented and incomplete state, missing many of the portions that plaintiff had written.
"Because her article was supposed to have been turned in to the JOLT editors just after her draft was damaged, plaintiff gave a copy of what she could salvage of the draft to JOLT, but informed JOLT Editors-in-Chief defendants Hamburger and Kitzinger and various members of the JOLT editorial board that the draft was not finished, that it needed extensive work because her computer had malfunctioned causing her to lose portions of the draft, and that it was therefore not ready for final submission. Ignoring plaintiff's explanation that the draft was not finished, defendants Kitzinger and Hamburger refused plaintiff's repeated requests to do further work on the draft, most specifically to allow her to substantively revise, shorten and proofread the draft, to rewrite sections of the draft, and to make the proper source credits in the draft article. Instead, they treated the draft as finished and finally submitted even though it was clearly fragmented and incomplete. Defendants Hamburger and Kitzinger claimed to the Law School's Administrative Board (which handled disciplinary matters) that plaintiff had plagiarized by not giving proper credit to various sources for the text used in her draft. They noted some incomplete source attributions, but failed to disclose that plaintiff had stated her intentions to add those sources and had given the full-text sources to JOLT just after she turned in her incomplete draft. Hamburger and Kitzinger thus treated as final and plagiarized an incomplete draft that had some missing sources because of a computer virus."
Walker, who was a third-year law student at the time, says she volunteered to write about technology law because of her interest in the topic.
Walker says the editors assured her she would have more time to complete the draft and reconstruct the proper source credits, but then excluded her from the rewriting process and treated the unfinished draft as final.
According to the complaint, the editors allotted far less time to editing Walker's article than they did the other student-authored pieces considered for publication at the time.
Walker claims that Hamburger and Kitzinger lost or destroyed the full-text sources she had hand-delivered to them, and lied about it during the administrative board hearing where they falsely accused her of plagiarizing portions of the unfinished article.
Claiming that the school failed to follow its own rules, Walker says she was found guilty of plagiarism in an unfair hearing.
As a result of the false accusation, a prestigious law firm that had offered Walker full-time employment withdrew its offer, according to the complaint.
Walker says most law firms refused to hire her when she disclosed the reprimand for plagiarism.
A firm that ultimately did hire her let her go after three months when the firm's senior lawyers discovered the reprimand on her record.
"The result has been ruinous for plaintiff," the complaint states. "The Law School placed a formal reprimand on plaintiff's official Law School transcript and placed, in her official Law School record, a letter stating that she had 'plagiarized' her work from other sources. As a result, her high-paying and professionally prestigious employment offer was revoked. Since that occurred, and despite best efforts and her otherwise excellent academic and professional record, plaintiff has been unable to find and maintain employment over the last three years."
Walker seeks damages for breach of contract, interference with contract and business advantage, defamation and emotional distress. She also wants the reprimand removed from her record.
She is represented by John Markham II with Markham & Read.