Wrongful termination lawsuit accuses Neuralink of Herpes B-infected monkey business

Forced to work through lunch, attacked by virus-carrying primates, and sacked for being pregnant – allegedly

Another week, another lawsuit for an Elon Musk-owned company, this one filed by a former Neuralink employee claiming she was twice scratched by lab monkeys carrying the Herpes B virus, which is potentially deadly to humans.

The complaint [PDF] filed on behalf of Lindsay Short in the Superior Court of California for Alameda County alleges a string of discriminatory and retaliatory practices that she claims culminated in her wrongful termination after she cried foul about a lack of correct protective equipment.

The filing names Neuralink, along with individual defendants Kylie Thurman and Autumn Sorrells, as well as 20 unnamed defendants.

Short was hired by Neuralink in March 2021 as part of the Animal Care Team at its location in Dixon, California. As a mother, she claims it was understood that her work schedule would require flexibility, which concerned her when she was later offered a promotion to Animal Care Lead.

When the Dixon location was closed, Short accepted the promotion and relocation to Fremont 80 miles (128 km) away from her childcare "support network" on the proviso that "flexible time off" would continue. She alleges this "legally binding oral agreement" received short shrift in the new setting, which she described as "fraught with blame, shame, and impossible deadlines."

The lawsuit includes allegations of various labor code violations such as failure to pay minimum and overtime wages, and denial of meal and rest breaks. Short claims she was often forced to work through her breaks and was not compensated for this additional work. It is also alleged that her manager, Thurman, began harassing and shaming Short for using the previously agreed upon "flexible time off."

The filing details two instances when Short was attacked by lab monkeys, rhesus macaques infected with Herpes B, on which Neuralink carried out experiments to develop its brain-computer interface. In September 2022, one reached through a cage and scratched Short's hand through her glove and broke her skin. Short claims she was again exposed to Herpes B in March 2023 when she "was forced to perform a procedure she had never done before, and Neuralink failed to provide the necessary training for." The result was that the animal scratched her face, prompting her to request medical attention, she alleges.

The suit alleges that Short was then threatened with "severe repercussions" if the incident was repeated. In both cases, Short claims that Neuralink did not wish to report the injuries to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as required, serving as basis for a "retaliatory animus against her." She also alleges that personal protective equipment (PPE) provided during experiments was insufficient, baring her skin and allowing her to be injured.

This "retaliatory animus" is claimed to have intensified when Short questioned Neuralink's definition of "self-injurious behavior" as not being consistent with established scientific standards "as it appeared Neuralink intentionally veered from the standard definition to circumvent USDA regulations." It is alleged that Thurman and Sorrells subjected her to further retaliation in response.

In May 2023, following clashes with upper management over flexible time off, Short was demoted then assigned a new schedule "with minimal regard for her existing commitments, often informing her of these changes with a mere day's notice," it is claimed.

According to the complaint, the alleged campaign continued with Sorrell and Thurman forcing Short to work through lunch and instructing colleagues to "fabricate negative performance complaints and grievances about her." This came to a head when Short informed HR on June 8, 2023, that she was pregnant "to determine whether reasonable accommodations could be made for her."

The following day she was hauled into a meeting and "confronted with a separation agreement and notice of termination for alleged 'performance issues,'" the filing claims.

The lawsuit includes 15 causes of action, ranging from discrimination based on sex (pregnancy) to retaliation, breach of oral contract, failure to pay minimum wages and overtime, and wrongful termination.

Short is represented by attorneys Raymond Babaian and Joseph Toubbeh of Valiant Law. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as recovery of attorney's fees and costs. Short also demands a jury trial. The Register asked Neuralink to comment.

Neuralink is far from an anomaly when it comes to lawsuits from former employees against Musk-owned businesses. Following the tech mogul's disastrous takeover of Twitter is a trail of litigation including claims that laid-off staff are owed half a billion. Electric car maker Tesla was forced to pay $3 million to a former worker for racist treatment. Not even SpaceX is immune, with construction firms claiming they haven't been paid.

Now the theme has extended to Neuralink, which is currently focused on "giving people with quadriplegia the ability to control their computers and mobile devices with their thoughts." The startup ostensibly achieved this with 29-year-old Noland Arbaugh who is now able to play Civilization 6 with his mind. Although the tech appears to have issues, Neuralink is seeking more quadriplegic patients. ®

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