Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor Vol. 27 No. 47
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Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor
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December 08, 2023

Iranian-born academic sues; was fired after allegedly letting Iranian student access NNSA software

By Dan Leone

An Iranian-born ex-professor, fired from the University of Toledo in Ohio for allegedly allowing an Iranian citizen to access software owned by the National Nuclear Security Administration, sued the school for wrongful termination, alleging multiple counts of discrimination.

Ishmael Parsai, a 69 year-old, nationalized U.S. citizen born in Iran, sued the university in November after he was fired in September 2022 for allegedly allowing an Iranian student in Iran access to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Monte Carlo N-Particle software code in 2020, according to an amended complaint filed Nov. 28.

Parsai did not deny facilitating access to the code in his 20-page amended complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division. According to the complaint, the student used the code.

However, Parsai did say that a 2022 federal investigation of this illegal software use, involving the Department of Energy’s Office of the Inspector General and “two other Federal agents” focused on his birth in Iran, the university’s admittance of Iranian graduate students, and the possibility that the Los Alamos code could have been used to analyze Iranian nuclear-weapons data, according to the amended complaint.

Parsai, who arrived in the U.S. in 1976, “is proud of his country – the United States of America – and would never do anything to hurt it,” reads his amended complaint. Parsai filed his first complaint on Nov. 1.

Parsai had worked at the university for 29 years and by 2022 was a professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology with an annual salary of $237,500, according to another document filed with the court. The official cause for his firing, according to the termination letter, was “violation of university policy, rules, regulations, procedures or bylaws.”

Parsai sued the university and several of its employees, including Christopher Cooper, Dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and age. A younger, non-Iranian-born university staffer connected with the code-sharing incident was placed on leave and reinstated, according to Parsai’s amended complaint. 

Parsai also alleged that the university did not give him sufficient time to respond to the charges against him before he was fired and that faculty did not resolve his grievance hearing in the 20 days required by university rules. That alleged procedural gaffe cost him a chance to appeal the hearing committee’s decision, Parsai said in his amended complaint.

Parsai seeks reinstatement at the university, full back pay and punitive damages, according to his amended complaint.

The university had not responded to Parsai’s complaint as of Monday.

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