When you’re on the winning side of the biggest gender discrimination verdict in history–last May’s $250 million punitive damages award in a class action against Novartis–word gets around. So when a half-dozen female employees of Bayer went looking for lawyers, it’s not a big surprise that they ended up at the offices of Sanford Heisler, where former Litigators of the Week David Sanford and Katherine Kimpel orchestrated Novartis’s courtroom humiliation.
On Monday Sanford Heisler filed an 85-page gender discrimination class action complaint against Bayer in New Jersey federal district court, raising allegations that will sound familiar to anyone who followed the Novartis litigation. Bayer, the complaint claims on behalf of six named plaintiffs, systematically prevents women from rising to the highest ranks of management, promotes a culture that demeans and belittles female employees, routinely discriminates against pregnant employees, and retaliates against women who complain of unfair treatment.
In one of the complaint’s most colorful allegations, Sanford Heisler asserts that in an October 2010 “Executive News Summary,” the company said that employees prefer to work for male managers because men are “easier to deal with [and] much less likely to have a hidden agenda, suffer mood swings, or get involved in office politics.” Female managers, the complaint alleges the Bayer publication says, “are ‘loose cannons’ who often feel threatened by colleagues.”
Kimpel of Sanford Heisler told us the Bayer case has “clear parallels” to the Novartis suit. “We allege that what we proved was happening at Novartis was also taking place at Bayer,” she said. “The policies and procedures are flawed….The corporate culture is incredibly dismissive of women in leadership.” Although the complaint lists only six name plaintiffs, Kimpel added, the firm is already talking to other Bayer employees; the putative class, according to the complaint, includes “hundreds of current and former employees.”
The complaint requests damages “in excess of $100 million.”
Bayer is represented by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Morgan Lewis partner Michael Banks referred us to a company spokeswoman, who e-mailed us this statement: “The company had previously received administrative complaints of discrimination from six current or former…employees from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Bayer was prepared to cooperate fully with the commission and respond to each of the discrimination charges, but the plaintiffs elected to terminate all six administrative proceedings and file the lawsuit without further investigation or findings by the commission. Bayer denies the allegations of gender discrimination and will vigorously defend itself against these charges.”