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Cancer expert sues employer for force-out over China program

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A former top official at a highly regarded cancer center in Florida sued his former employer on Thursday, claiming he was unfairly forced out of his job even though he had no part in a controversial effort by China to recruit U.S. researchers for collaborations.

Thomas Seller said in the complaint against H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa that he took no part in the “Thousand Talents Program" with China, even though other employees took money and performed research for the communist nation.

The program is an initiative designed to recruit experts from the U.S. and elsewhere to collaborate with researchers in China. It has come under the scrutiny of federal officials who warn it's a way for China to gain access to U.S. research and intellectual property.

The lawsuit is seeking more than $30,000.

Sellers, who was Moffitt's director of cancer research, was “a model employee and he was very well respected by his peers at Moffitt and around the country," said the lawsuit filed in state court in Tampa.

“Sellers was unjustifiably forced to resign by Moffitt after it came to light that several Moffitt employees were involved in the Thousand Talents Program with China," the lawsuit said.

In a statement, Moffit's director of strategic communications, Mark Hendrickson, said the cancer center would fight the lawsuit in court.

“Moffitt stands behind its findings from the investigation of Dr. Sellers and will vigorously defend any legal action filed against the Cancer Center,” he said.

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