Sanford Heisler Files $100M+ Discrimination Suit Against Pharma Giant Merck & Co., Inc.

Posted May 9th, 2013.

Class Action Asserts Company Discriminates Against Female Sales Reps

For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos, 646-791-4848, [email protected]

(May 9, 2013, Newark, NJ) — Sanford Heisler LLP today filed a $100 million individual and class action suit in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey against pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc.

The action was brought by Kelli Smith on behalf of all female sales representatives at Merck. The complaint asserts that the company systematically discriminates against its female and pregnant employees in assignment, promotion, advancement, and pay and retaliates against female employees in violation of Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

“Merck is a male-dominated workplace openly hostile to the success and advancement of women,” said David Sanford, Founder and Chairman of Sanford Heisler and lead attorney on Ms. Smith’s legal team. “Its discrimination against mothers is particularly egregious because Merck’s compensation structure decreases the pay of managers whose subordinates take maternity leave.”

Other members of Ms. Smith’s legal team include Kate Mueting, an associate in Washington, D.C, and Deborah Marcuse, a Senior Litigation Counsel in New York. Sanford Heisler LLP has a long record of victories in employment discrimination matters brought by female employees of global pharmaceutical companies, including a recent case against Novartis that resulted in the largest ever monetary award in a U.S. employment discrimination case.

Ms. Smith’s suit details a widespread pattern of employment discrimination. Merck discourages management from hiring and promoting women, attempts to force pregnant women to leave the company so their managers’ compensation will not be affected, and structures compensation so that managers and colleagues of pregnant women get paid less because they work with women who take maternity leave.

“Female employees are discouraged from having children, and punished when they do,” said Ms. Mueting. “Ms. Smith’s supervisors admitted that Ms. Smith’s low ranking was due to the ‘timing of her baby.’ High-level company officials, including Human Resources, refused to address her discriminatory placement, and attempted to discourage Ms. Smith from raising allegations of discrimination.”

The complaint asserts employees on maternity leave are ineligible for merit awards and recognition for their sales, even when their sales surpass those of their male counterparts. According to Ms. Smith’s legal team, Merck has long been on notice about its company-wide gender and pregnancy discrimination, but has taken no steps to remedy them. In fact, the complaint notes that Merck routinely retaliates against women who raise discrimination complaints — another violation of federal and state employment statutes.

Ms. Smith is a Senior Sales Representative at Merck in Toms River, NJ. After joining the company in 2004, she received national recognition for her sales productivity and outstanding leadership. However, when she became pregnant after five successful years at the company, Ms. Smith faced hostility from her manager, who withdrew his support and refused to acknowledge her as a member of his team.

When Ms. Smith returned from giving birth, Merck demoted her to the same rank as entry-level sales representatives. Ms. Smith’s managers later told her that her low ranking was due to her pregnancy and maternity leave.

“Merck creates a hostile environment where female and pregnant employees are harassed and marginalized,” said Deborah Marcuse. “Managers refer to women as “whores” and routinely exclude them from events and networking opportunities.”

The class action complaint requests court intervention that would prevent further gender and pregnancy discrimination.

Merck (NUSE:MRK), headquartered in Whitehouse Station, NJ, employs some 83,000 individuals worldwide. Its 2012 global revenue was $47.3 billion, including $20.4 billion in the U.S. The company manufactures pharmaceuticals for many conditions, including women’s health.

About Sanford Heisler

Sanford Heisler is a public interest law firm with offices in Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco that specializes in employment discrimination, wage and hour, qui tam and other civil rights matters. The firm has extensive experience in complex class action litigation, having successfully represented thousands of individuals in major class action cases in the United States. The firm also represents select individual clients with a particular emphasis on the representation of executives and lawyers in employment disputes and whistleblowers. In May 2010, the firm won the largest jury award in the U.S. in a gender discrimination employment class action when a jury returned a verdict of $253 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. In 2012, the firm settled a wage and hour case on behalf of sales reps employed by Novartis Pharmaceuticals for $99 million. For more information, contact Sanford Heisler at 646-791-4848.