In the latest instance of alleged sexual discrimination by female sales reps in the pharmaceutical industry, four women who used to work for Forest Laboratories have filed a lawsuit charging the drugmaker with gender discrimination related to pregnancies, maternity leaves and caregiving responsibilities, as well as verbal harassment. They are seeking $100 million in damages.
The lawsuit comes amid a growing number of such complaints filed by big sales reps against some of the largest drugmakers. Last year, AstraZeneca agreed to pay $250,000 to 124 women who were subjected to pay discrimination (see here) and a class action lawsuit was filed alleging that Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals discriminated against female employees (read this). Two years ago, Novartis agreed to pay $152.5 million to settle a sex discrimination class action lawsuit brought by female sales reps (see this and this).
The lawsuit against Forest Labs was brought by Megan Barrett, Lindsay Houser, Jennifer Jones and Jennifer Seard, all of whom worked for the drugmaker at various times over the past decade. Barrett, for instance, claims her sales ranking dropped and received a lower evaluation after a maternity leave, according to the lawsuit, and that she received a nominal pay increase, but no stock options, unlike in previous years.
Houser, meanwhile, claims she was denied a promotion toward the end of her pregnancy and, after a child was born, a job-sharing arrangement, even though such positions had purportedly been offered to other employees in the past. She also charges that she received a lower pay hike and fewer options after her pregnancy than she had been given previously. Both women felt they had no choice but to resign, according to the lawsuit.
As for Jones, she claimed her manager harassed her. The suit cites an instance at a social function in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2008, where her manager stood behind her and pointed to her while mouthing to another Forest Labs sales manager that “you need to f*** her.” When Jones left to use the bathroom later that night, her manager positioned a stool chair at his waist and made thrusting motions and other sexual gestures. While doing so, he told a male rep that he “f*** the shit out of her,” referring to Jones. He then asked the male rep why no one had “f****d” her yet.
Subsequently, Jones feared retaliation, because she feared her job was threatened if she described the incident to anyone. But she eventually escalated the situation by seeking assistance from human resources. But rather than investigate her allegations, the lawsuit states, the drugmaker instead focused on her sales performance. Along with a male sales rep who served as a witness to her allegations, she was placed on probation, and she continued to remain uncomfortable since she had to interact with her manager. She later resigned.
And Seard, who reported to the same manager, claims she suffered lower job evaluations because she sought a job-sharing arrangement in order to care for a child with epilepsy. She eventually complained to human resources about his behavior - he called her "unmotivated" and consistently challenged her performance - but her efforts went allegedly went nowhere. She was later falsely accused by her manager of violating expense report policies, although an investigation later exonerated her*. In any event, she later resigned due to the alleged discrimination. The women also charge, by the way, that they were paid less than similarly situated male employees, according to the Sanford Wittels & Heisler law firm (here is the lawsuit).
We have asked Forest Labs for a comment and will update you accordingly.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this post failed to note that Seard was exonerated of the accusation concerning her expense report].