Last fall, Luca Volsky took a few days off from her job as a sales rep in Hungary, where she marketed the Plavix blood thinner, to observe the Jewish New Year. While she was gone, another rep allegedly made disparaging anti-Semitic remarks about her to several doctors in her territory and, when she later heard about the episode and complained to her supervisor, Volsky charges she was met with indifference.
Over the next several weeks, the drugmaker failed to sufficiently investigate her complaint, according to a lawsuit Volsky, 48, subsequently filed this year. Meanwhile, Volsky felt increasingly uncomfortable at work and the issue remained unresolved when the unit closed in late December for the Christmas holiday. On January 3, however, Volksy was suddenly laid off. The stated reason? Economic cutbacks.
However, Volsky and her attorney, Andras Kadar of Hungarian Helsinki Committee, note she was a leading sales rep in 2006 and 2007. In addition, two other sales reps, who detail the same drugs in the same region but were not with the drugmaker as long, were not laid off. In an e-mail to Sanofi, which Volsky provided us, Kadar also expressed concern that a Sanofi supervisor issued a memo in response to her complaint denouncing both anti-Semitism and 'unfounded' accusations of anti-Semitism.
"I worked as a senior sales representative for Sanofi more than five years. I'm a medical doctor," she wrote us in an e-mail. "I was the sales champion. They fired me because I'm a Jew."
By mid-January, though, Volsky was diagnosed with cancer and attempted to negotiate a settlement with Sanofi, but the effort went nowhere, according to e-mails exchanged between Kadar and Sanofi, which Volsky provided to us. Kadar declined to comment other than to confirm the details of the case and the failure of the settlement talks, which involved Frederic Ollier, who heads Sanofi's Hungarian unit.
In a recent e-mail to Kadar, however, Ollier insisted the matter was investigated and that Volksy was laid off as part of a general cutback. "As I already mentioned during our personal meeting, I can only repeat my standpoint that the cause of the termination is real and reasonable, the company executed reorganization and reduction, expressly and only because of economical considerations the consequence of which was the employment termination of your client."
A Sanofi spokesman sent us a statement that was relayed from the drugmaker's global headquarters in France: "We are confident that the company has behaved appropriately at all times. Beyond that, we do not comment publicly on employment disputes." Despite the tension, Volsky holds out hope of a settlement, but has no illusion about the possibility of returning to the drugmaker. "I don't want to hurt nobody," she wrote us. "So I asked only forgiveness (an apology) and a settlement. When they fired me, they was laughing at me. In January, I wanted to go back, but now if there will be the same leader, it's impossible."