Posted July 22nd, 2016.
NEW YORK – Merck & Co. (MRK) is under fire this morning after more than 400 current and former female employees filed a $250 million class action lawsuit against the drug giant alleging gender discrimination and unequal pay.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said that within the past month, more than 400 women have come forward to join the lawsuit, bringing the total number of complainants to 405. It took three weeks for current and former female employees to join the lawsuit, attorneys at New York-based Sanford Heisler said. David Sanford, chairman of the law firm and co-lead counsel in the case, said many women who have been employed by Merck believe they have suffered pay discrimination during their tenure at the company.
The class action lawsuit was approved in April by the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey for female sales representatives. The initial lawsuit that alleged sexual harassment, discrimination and unequal pay, was started by a single complainant, Kelli Smith, a sales representative from Toms River who worked for the company since 2004, according to Law.com. Smith said she was demoted, received lower performance evaluations than her male counterparts and was subject to a hostile work environment following her return to work from maternity leave in 2010, according to reports.
The class action status was awarded by U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp who allowed the lawsuit to proceed under the federal Equal Pay Act, which, as its name says, calls for equal pay for men and women doing the same work.
According to the complaint, the women in the class action lawsuit allege that Merck “systematically discriminates against female sales representatives, and pregnant women in particular, in promotions and other terms and conditions of employment.” Those allegations are in addition to allegations of unequal pay.
Attorneys said they have reached out to 3,183 women notifying them of the class action lawsuit in hopes they too will join. Merck said it believes the case lacks merit and will defend its practices.
“The company will continue to vigorously defend itself, and remains fully committed to providing equal employment opportunities for all employees. Merck has a strong anti-discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of characteristics, such as gender, pregnancy, race, age, disability and sexual orientation,” the Merck statement said, as Law.com reported.
Merck is certainly not the only company to face allegations of gender bias. In 2015 Alcon (ACL), a Novartis (NVS) division, was slapped with a $110 million gender discrimination lawsuit that alleged the company fosters a “boys club” attitude that is hostile to women. The two plaintiffs, Elyse Dickerson and Susan Orr, say the company specifically violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination by employers, and the U.S. Equal Pay Act. That lawsuit was settled earlier this year for $8.2 million.
The class action lawsuit is Smith et al. v. Merck & Co., Inc. et. al., 3:13-cv-02970 (D.N.J.).