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Tam v. Siemens Corporate Research

April 16, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-0072-05.

Per curiam.


Submitted March 4, 2008

Before Judges Skillman, Winkelstein and Yannotti.

Defendant Siemens, A.G., is a large German corporation with hundreds of subsidiaries. One of those subsidiaries is defendant Siemens Corporate Research (SCR), which performs medical technology research work in Princeton for other Siemens subsidiaries.

Plaintiff is a research scientist who earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1980. For the next fifteen years, plaintiff worked for General Electric (GE) in the field of medical imaging. During his last six years at GE, plaintiff focused on exact cone beam reconstruction, a procedure designed to improve CAT scans through use of three-dimensional imaging.

In 1994, plaintiff responded to a Siemens newspaper job advertisement, and as a result, Siemens recruited him to leave GE and work on exact cone beam technology for Siemens. Plaintiff was initially employed by a Siemens subsidiary called Siemens Medical Systems but was transferred to SCR in 1996, where he supervised SCR's exact cone beam reconstruction research. This work was funded by contracts SCR entered into with Siemens Medical Solutions Computer Tomography (Siemens Med CT), a Siemens German subsidiary.

In 1998, Siemens Med CT, another Siemens German subsidiary, decided to decrease funding for plaintiff's support staff at SCR and instead assign plaintiff support staff from another subsidiary, Siemens Medical Solutions General Technology (Med GT). A young Siemens Med GT scientist, Guenter Lauritsch, was assigned to the exact cone beam reconstruction project with plaintiff. Lauritsch had no previous cone beam reconstruction experience. Plaintiff taught Lauritsch about the technique, and Lauritsch began working on its implementation. Lauritsch worked primarily to develop computer software applications for plaintiff's theoretical algorithms.

In 2000, plaintiff became aware that the Siemens subsidiaries funding exact cone beam reconstruction "were becoming concerned about whether they wanted to move forward with that technology." Plaintiff's 2000 performance review noted that "without a practical road map, the future of [the exact cone beam reconstruction project] will not be very bright." In addition, the review stated that "[d]ue to the changing needs from CT and SCR, it is worthwhile to explore other projects where [plaintiff] can be an effective team leader. This needs to be determined as early as possible." Finally, plaintiff's 2000 review classified him as an "effective contributor," and not a "strong contributor" as in previous reviews. He also received a smaller raise and bonus than in previous years. Plaintiff attributed the lowering of his rating and bonus to the "funding situation."

In 2001, plaintiff began assisting with an ongoing "AX scanner" project, which involved proximate cone beam reconstruction -- a different form of medical imaging research work than the exact cone beam method with which plaintiff had been engaged previously. From mid-2001 through 2002, plaintiff devoted between 80 and 90 percent of his time to the AX scanner project. In his remaining time, plaintiff continued to work with Siemens Med GT on the development of the exact cone beam technology.

While plaintiff's focus was shifted to the AX scanner, Lauritsch assumed control of the exact cone beam reconstruction project. Lauritsch's immediate goal was to establish a relationship with a Dr. Katsevich, a university professor who had developed a new approach to exact cone beam reconstruction. Siemens paid Katsevich as an outside consultant to demonstrate his technology in its German offices for three months starting in May 2002. Lauritsch stated that while Katsevich's algorithm marked an advancement in practical implementation of the technique, the "product people" nevertheless expressed a decreasing interest in exact cone beam technology. Notwithstanding its decreased lack of interest in this technology, Siemens contracted with Katsevich through the end of 2002 for work with his algorithm.

On November 19, 2002, plaintiff received what proved to be his final evaluation at SCR. The document stated that Med CT had decided to cut funding to SCR for plaintiff's exact cone beam reconstruction project, which apparently had not led to a usable imaging product. The evaluation noted that another Siemen's subsidiary, Siemens Med AX, had expressed interest in the exact cone beam technology and that plaintiff should market the technology to that division. The evaluation concluded that if plaintiff could not obtain funding for the exact cone beam technology, he would have to identify a new project that "meets the interest of both him and Siemens." Plaintiff's 2002 evaluation included ratings of "needs improvement" in the areas of "customer focus" and "teamwork skills." Plaintiff had never before received ratings below satisfactory in these areas. Plaintiff reasoned that the ratings were related to the "funding situation."

SCR did not receive funding from Med AX for the exact cone beam technology. Plaintiff did not find additional work at Siemens in the month following his evaluation and was informed in December that he would be terminated, effective January 31, 2003. The termination letter stated that "due to the current situation whereby Siemens has decided not to pursue further research in your area of expertise, you will be laid off from your present position with Siemens Corporate Research[.]"

Following plaintiff's termination, Katsevich returned to Germany in 2003 and spent an additional month working with Siemens on his algorithm. Katsevich returned in 2004 for another month to work on an alternative trajectory for exact cone beam reconstruction using his algorithm. Throughout Siemens' collaboration with Katsevich, Lauritsch supervised graduate student interns who worked on computer implementation of Katsevich's ...

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