The University reached a settlement last week with Bonnie Yankaskas, ending an 18-month standoff in which the embattled cancer researcher appealed a salary cut and demotion that followed a breach of the Carolina Mammography Registry.
The settlement, finalized April 11 but not announced until Friday, rescinded a near-halving of Yankaskas’ salary and restored her to full professor status, while requiring her to retire from UNC by Dec. 31. She will also be reimbursed $175,000 toward her legal fees.
In calling for an end to her 27-year career at UNC, the settlement achieved the University’s initial intention of firing Yankaskas. On Oct. 27, she received an intention to discharge letter from Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney, who wrote that she exhibited “deliberate neglect” as the project’s principal investigator in overseeing its data security.
Discovered in 2009, the computer hack and potential security breach exposed the personal information — including names, addresses and birth dates — of about 180,000 subject and patient records involved in the registry. About 114,000 Social Security numbers were potentially accessed by the hacker, the University said.
“I was appalled,” Carney said in October. “The first question you have to ask is, ‘How does this happen?’”
After an appeal to the faculty hearings committee, Yankaskas’ punishment was softened to a 48 percent pay cut that reduced her annual salary from $178,000 to $93,000 — and a demotion to associate professor with tenure. Both actions were rescinded in the settlement.
Throughout the dispute, Yankaskas contended that she was not responsible for the registry’s security, as information technology is not within her expertise.
“She felt that they shouldn’t be knocking at her door,” said Ray D. Cotton, Yankaskas’ legal counsel. “She’s not a computer person. She thought she was adequately protected by offices in the University that did have expertise in the field.”
In the joint statement, Yankaskas was recognized as an “eminent researcher and a long-standing faculty member” who has “made many contributions to the advancement of science and the improvement of health care for women concerned about or experiencing breast cancer.” The statement also acknowledged that a communication breakdown hindered Yankaskas’ ability to realize the server’s security had been compromised.
Citing a provision in the settlement that prevents both sides from disparaging one another, Cotton declined to comment on details of the negotiation, including any role Yankaskas had in inserting acknowledgements into the statement.
Yankaskas could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t want to get into who pushed for what,” Cotton said. “The University agreed to it, and the University issued it.”
University officials, including Chancellor Holden Thorp, also declined to comment on details.
“I don’t have anything more to say about it except that I’m happy that this has worked out,” Thorp said Friday at a Faculty Council meeting.
Had the dispute not been settled, Cotton said the appeal could have reached the Board of Trustees or even district court.
“It was in everybody’s best interest to avoid that if we could,” he said. “It was a mutual decision to try to resolve it ourselves.”
Beyond Dec. 31, Cotton said the future is unclear for Yankaskas, who is in her early 60s. He said Yankaskas will remain at the University through Dec. 31 to assure a smooth transition for whomever is tapped to succeed her.
“This eminent researcher will be doing eminent research, but not at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Cotton said.
“Where and under whose banner hasn’t been decided yet.”
Contact the University Editor at email@example.com.
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