A federal judge has allowed 5 former and current sales reps, from the pharmaceutical company Merck, to proceed with a lawsuit claiming they suffered sex discrimination. The women allege in their lawsuit that seeks class-action status, and $250 million in damages, that the drug maker permitted discriminatory and disparate pay and promotion policies and allowed for a hostile work environment.
Sex Discrimination Lawsuit
According to court documents, Kelli Smith, who was a rep for nine years, claims she faced hostility from her manager after she came pregnant and went on maternity leave. Smith was told by her bosses that they made a decision to demote her based on the timing of her baby and maternity leave. She was demoted to an entry level rep position and was denied an award. Kandice Bross, alleged that Merck promoted a “boys club” culture claiming her manager admitted to her salary “sticking out like a sore thumb” in comparison to other reps in her region. Bross explains that even after a slight increase she made significantly less than her male counterparts. Bross also alleges Merck pays male reps more because they are “breadwinners.”
U.S. District Court Judge, Joel Pisano, decided that the women made plausible arguments for the case to precede and see whether discrimination took place. Pisano accused Merck of being “premature” in seeking to dismiss the case, given that “hardly, if any, discovery has been completed and there has been little to no evidence… to evaluate the merits” of the claims seeking class-action status. According to a comment sent to WSJ by a Merck spokeswoman, “Merck has a strong anti-discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of characteristics, such as pregnancy, race, age, disability and sexual orientation.”
Since 2010, when Novartis paid $152.5 million to several female reps, sex discrimination lawsuits were subsequently filed against Bayer, Pfizer, Daiichi Sankyo and Forest Laboratories, which is now part of Actavis. AstraZeneca also settled a case.