Posted November 5th, 2012.
By Gavin Broady
Law360, New York (November 05, 2012, 3:36 PM ET) — Six women on Friday joined a $100 million New York gender discrimination class action against Forest Laboratories Inc., bringing to 10 the total number of sales representatives who say they were denied fair compensation and promotions by the drugmaker.
The six new plaintiffs — all of whom are current or former Forest sales representatives — join a suit that targets Forest Laboratories and subsidiary Forest Pharmaceuticals Inc. over claims that it engages in systematic, company-wide discriminatory treatment of female employees based on their gender, particularly with respect to women who are pregnant or have children.
The suit, originally filed in July, is a proposed class action under Title VII and collective action under the Equal Pay Act, and also includes nonclass claims for sexual harassment, retaliation and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
“The amended complaint reflects the unfortunate reality that the first four named plaintiffs comprise just a fraction of the women subjected to gender discrimination at Forest,” plaintiffs’ lead attorney David Sanford of Sanford Heisler LLP said in a statement Monday. “Information about the full extent of the hostile work environment that pregnant women and mothers endure companywide continues to emerge, as more and more women employed by this pharma giant find out that much of what they are subjected to as Forest employees is illegal.”
Sanford added that he expects the class to be “quite large” and noted similarities to a 2010 New York gender discrimination suit against Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp. that resulted in a $253 jury verdict against the company. That suit was brought by 5,600 female sales employees — also represented by Sanford Heisler — who accused the Swiss drug giant of widespread pay, promotion and pregnancy discrimination.
The plaintiffs joining the suit in Friday’s amended complaint include sales representatives from California, Kentucky, Illinois and Pennsylvania, and their addition provides further support to accusations of a pervasive pattern of discrimination and harassment at Forest, according to the firm.
The amended complaint asserts that female sales representatives are paid less than similar male counterparts and that women are routinely denied bonuses, promotions, stock options and other employment incentives.
The suit further alleges that Forest ignores, disregards, minimizes and covers up evidence of gender discrimination nationwide, and that when the plaintiffs reported the discrimination and harassment to their superiors or human resource departments, each allegedly faced retaliation and several lost their jobs, while no disciplinary action was taken against the men who allegedly discriminated against and harassed them.
“We … do not know why — when Forest is provided repeatedly with information that pregnant women and mothers are among those most severely harassed and discriminated against — that this giant company consistently ignores these reports and punishes the women who make them,” Sanford Heisler attorney Katherine Leong said Monday. “What we do know is that this gender harassment and discrimination have already persisted too long and must be brought to an end.”
The complaint seeks class certification, a declaratory judgment that Forest has engaged in systemic gender discrimination, a permanent injunction against continuing discrimination as well as damages and fees. The suit also seeks a court order requiring Forest to restructure its personnel policies and procedures to ensure gender equity.
The proposed class would cover about 1,500 current and former female sales representatives who worked for Forest after 2008, as well as a subclass comprising an estimated 150 to 300 sales representatives who worked for Forest while pregnant. The Equal Pay Act collective group would comprise female sales representatives who weren’t compensated on par with men with similar duties.
Following the filing of the original complaint, Sanford said an estimated $100 million in damages is in play in the case, adding that the plaintiffs are pursuing both intentional gender discrimination and disparate impact theories.
Representatives for Forest did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The plaintiffs are represented by David Sanford, Stefanie Roemer, Lubna Alam, Kate Mueting, Jeremy Heisler and Deborah Marcuse of Sanford Heisler LLP.
Counsel information for Forest was not immediately available.
The case is Barrett et al. v. Forest Laboratories Inc. et al., case number 1:12-cv-05224, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
–Additional reporting by Ben James. Editing by Richard McVay.