Sanford Heisler Ups the Ante in Bayer Gender Discrimination Class Action

Less than a year after wining a $250 million trial victory against Novartis for discriminating against nearly 6,000 female sales representatives, lawyers at Sanford Heisler filed similar class discrimination claims two months ago against a new defendant, Bayer. The allegations strongly mirrored those against Novartis, but Bayer could point to at least one big difference: The proposed Bayer class included only current and former management-level employees, and not sales representatives, limiting its size to “hundreds” of members.

Not anymore. On Wednesday Sanford Heisler filed an amended complaint in the Bayer case that could cause the company’s liability to skyrocket. Thanks to the addition of two more named plaintiffs, the suit now includes all female employees at Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, a whole new division of the company, Bayer HealthCare Corporate Care, and–as in the Novartis case–all current and former female Bayer sales representatives.

Lead plaintiffs counsel Katherine Kimpel of Sanford Heisler told us the new complaint “significantly expands” the size of the class and Bayer’s liability. “We once again have the case looking more and more like Novartis, and in fact exceeding Novartis, because we have both the sales reps and the higher level folks,” Kimpel said.

Natalie Celske, a senior Bayer sales representative named in the amended complaint, alleges that she was underpaid and passed over for promotions despite outperforming her male counterparts. Celske “is very similar to some of our best trial witnesses [in the Novartis case] in that she was an exemplary performer,” Kimpel told us.

Some of the most eye-popping allegations in the new complaint come from Vera Santangelo, a financial specialist at Bayer HealthCare Consumer Care. She not only claims she was discriminated against in pay and promotions, but alleges that a senior Bayer in-house lawyer subjected her to repeated sexual harassment. (She claims, for example, that the lawyer touched her inappropriately while praising her “girlish figure” and stared at her chest while thanking her for wearing a certain outfit.)

“What happened to [Santangelo] is bad enough, but it’s also important that she was incredibly proactive about trying to address this problem within the structure that the company had supposedly set up,” Kimpel said. “She really tried everything and it didn’t stop.”

Bayer is represented by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Partners Sarah Bouchard and Michael Banks referred our request for comment to Bayer, which said in a statement that it “denies the allegations of gender discrimination and will vigorously defend itself against these claims.”

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