Pharmalot, May 9, 2013 – Merck Sales Rep: I Was Demoted For Having A Baby

Yet another drugmaker is being charged with alleged sex discrimination against female employees. The latest lawsuit has been filed by a Merck sales rep, who alleges the drugmaker permits discriminatory and disparate pay and promotion and policies, and allows a hostile workplace environment. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in New Jersey, seeks $100 million and class-action status.

“As a result of companywide policies, managers and employees at Merck discourage female employees from having children and punish those who do,” the lawsuit states. “Merck managers are openly hostile to pregnant women and women with children, telling female sales representatives that they ‘can’t be both a mother and a senior representative.’ “

This is only one of several such lawsuits to be filed against some of the largest drugmakers over the past two years, especially in the wake of a 2010 settlement in which Novartis (NVS) agreed to pay $152.5 million to several female reps (see this). In the past two years, lawsuits were filed against Daiichi Sankyo, Forest Laboratories (FRX) and Pfizer (PFE) (read here, here and here). Two years ago, AstraZeneca (AZN) agreed to pay $250,000 to 124 women who were subjected to pay discrimination (look here) and a class action lawsuit was filed alleging that Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals discriminated against female employees (read this).

As we have noted in other stories about discrimination lawsuits, the pharmaceutical industry regularly faces such claims and this is not surprising, especially given the huge number of job cuts in recent years by drugmakers, which have been trying to slash expenses but may do so in ways that can leave them vulnerable to discrimination charges (see a story yesterday involving Johnson & Johnson and claims of age discrimination).

In the latest case, Kelli Smith claims she faced hostility from her manager, who withdrew his support and refused to acknowledge her as a member of his team after she became pregnant. And when she returned after maternity leave, she was to the same rank as entry-level sales reps. Smith’s managers later told her that her low ranking was due to her pregnancy and maternity leave, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Sanford Heisler, the same law firm that brought the case against Novartis (here is the lawsuit). We asked Merck for comment and will update you accordingly.

This article originally appeared in Pharmalot.

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