Correction appended: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said that Christine Gerdes, a research associate in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, testified for the case. Christine Gerdes, who is an assistant general counsel at the University and who used to work in Academic Human Resources, was the person who actually testified.

The case brought by a former University research assistant alleging wrongful termination from his research post will drag on for another day after the jury decided yesterday to hold off deciding on the final verdict until this morning.

Robert McGee, 54, filed the suit against the University Board of Regents after he was terminated from his job as a research assistant in the Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences Department. McGee alleges that he was fired because he reported safety violations in the laboratory.

McGee said he saw Assistant Prof. Michael Hartman, who led the project, engage in various safety protocol violations, including dumping dangerous chemicals down a drain and entering another lab without proper access. McGee said Hartman also put him in a dangerous situation in which he could have been exposed to the highly radioactive isotope Cesium-137.

Yesterday the judge called two new witnesses to the stand: Bill Martin, professor and chair of the Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences Department, followed by Christine Gerdes, who is an assistant general counsel at the University and who used to work in Academic Human Resources.

David Masson, the attorney representing the University, began proceedings by questioning Martin about McGee’s past work as a graduate student at the University and his involvement in the research program. Masson asked several questions about McGee’s numerous incomplete courses as well as problems that allegedly arose with McGee’s involvement on the research team.

Martin said he was concerned McGee wouldn’t be able to successfully continue his coursework at the University after he did poorly in a fundamental class and received an incomplete in an extensive junior-level class.

Martin oversaw McGee’s appointment to Hartman’s project, in which McGee was only permitted to work 10 hours a week because of the incomplete.

While testifying before the defense, Martin said he had two major concerns with the research lab. The first, he said, was Hartman’s attachment to the lab.

“I thought he was taking it too much to heart,” Martin said. “You have to take it seriously, but he might have been taking too much of his own time and effort getting this lab up and going.”

Martin said he was also concerned with Hartman’s frustration with McGee because McGee “did not adhere to any schedule” and Hartman “could not rely on him.”

Gerdes, who worked in academic human resources, took the stand next. She testified about a phone call she received Feb. 20, 2008 from McGee in which he anonymously complained about Hartman’s behavior in the lab.

Gerdes said McGee called her again on Feb. 26, 2008 to tell her that he was terminated from his position. At this time, he disclosed his and Hartman’s names.

Following Gerdes’s testimony, McGee took the stand for a final time, first to answer questions issued from his own attorney, Christine Green. She asked McGee questions about his poor academic performance in order to give McGee the opportunity to defend himself.

In her closing argument, Green emphasized that because McGee alleges he was fired because he reported a suspected violation in the laboratory, he should be protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which protects workers who report problems in their work environment.

Green also said that since it’s virtually impossible for McGee to find a job without additional schooling, this incident robbed McGee of the potential to find a successful career in the future. She added that McGee applied to almost 30 engineering firms, none of which have yet replied to his application.

“He has lost the career he wanted to have,” Green said. “He’s 54 years old now and has to change course completely.”

Masson then made his closing argument. He first focused on the quality of McGee’s work in the lab and his inability to meet various deadlines set by Hartman.

Masson also asserted that Hartman had already made the decision to fire McGee long before he discovered McGee had reported the safety issues. Masson said McGee was fired not because of the complaints he made, but because of his continuous problems and lack of ability to meet deadlines in the workplace.

In one of the final comments of the day, Green used her rebuttal to explain the strength McGee demonstrated throughout the trial.

“I think he is an individual who has been through a lot of hurdles and who can make it again,” said Green. “He was there in the program and built the lab, that in all probability no graduate student should have been responsible for.”

She said the lab was such a big project and that in order to succeed with it, McGee at times had to sacrifice his grades.

The jury is scheduled to return to court to deliberate and decide on a verdict in the case at 9 a.m. this morning.

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