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Jose Montoya had been at Stanford University’s School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, for nearly 30 years.

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Updated: Chronic fatigue syndrome scientist fired after conduct complaints, Stanford says

Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, has fired a prominent researcher who studies the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis as well as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

The school fired Jose Montoya on 30 May, citing unspecified behavioral violations, The Stanford Daily first reported.

A Stanford spokesperson provided ScienceInsider with this statement:

The School of Medicine has made the decision to terminate Dr. Montoya’s employment with the University. Upon receipt of complaints relating to his conduct, we promptly initiated an investigation led by an outside attorney and Stanford faculty member that found multiple violations of the University’s conduct policies. We believe that this is the appropriate course of action for the Stanford University community based on these findings. We note that Dr. Montoya has the right to appeal this decision. We are not commenting further on this matter out of respect for the privacy of all individuals involved.

After the first report of Montoya’s firing, The Stanford Daily on 4 June published a second story, reporting on an anonymous statement it said came from a group of women affected by Montoya’s actions. It said that the complaints involved “extensive allegations of sexual misconduct, assault and harassment.”

In a 5 June statement released by Montoya’s lawyer, the researcher issued a broad—if vague—apology, saying, in part, “I sincerely apologize to anyone who, in any way, I offended. What has unfolded since March has been a huge surprise and devastating to me and my family. It was even more shattering to learn, through the June 4 Stanford Daily article, that it was members of my Stanford ME/CFS team who experienced some of my behaviors as attempts at unsolicited sexual acts, harassment, and misconduct. It is extremely important that you know I have not been involved in any sexual or romantic relationships with employees, trainees, colleagues, or CFS team members.”

On Twitter, some members of the CFS community, who also call the disease myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), voiced dismay. Journalist Hillary Johnson, who wrote a book on the puzzling condition, tweeted that Montoya is “A brilliant MD who singlehandedly turned Stanford around on ME years ago, who believed the FIRST patient he ever saw—at a time when powers at Stanford had decreed ME patients could not even be seen there.”

Originally from Colombia, Montoya has directed the Toxoplasma Serology Laboratory at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation since 2008, according to his Stanford faculty profile. He has published dozens of articles on Toxoplasma gondii, the infectious parasite that is passed by contaminated food and water and damages fetuses. He has received multiple awards for teaching excellence.

In his statement, Montoya suggests that his background may have led to the complaints, saying “The social norms in the U.S. are evolving and quite different than those from my culture and homeland. I did not sufficiently appreciate that difference. It is my responsibility to change and be both mindful and respectful of the boundaries of personal space – and I pledge to do just that.”

Stanford did not specify what conduct led to its action. But the medical school’s statement went on to say:

Stanford did not specify what conduct led to its action. But the medical school’s statement went on to say:

The University has robust policies providing for the fair and respectful treatment of employees, including the School of Medicine’s Statement on the Respectful Workplace, the University’s Code of Conduct, and related policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination. When conduct in violation of any of these policies occurs, the University will act to stop the conduct.

*Updated, 7 June, 2:30 p.m.: This story has been updated with a statement from Jose Montoya and other information regarding the nature of the complaints against him.