Posted July 26th, 2016.
More than 400 women have come forward over the past month to join a class action lawsuit against US pharma giant Merck & Co (NYSE: MRK), lawyers have revealed.
It brings the total number of female employees claiming gender discrimination to 405.
As well as challenging alleged unfair pay decisions, the women claim Merck systematically discriminates against female sales representatives, and pregnant women in particular, in promotions and other terms and conditions of employment.
David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler LLP and co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said: “The message sent by these women is clear. Many women across the country believe that they suffered pay discrimination while working at Merck. What started out as one woman against a corporation has now grown to more than 400.”
The case, Smith vs Merck & Co, has gathered pace from a single lawsuit alleging discrimination which was filed by Kelli Smith in 2013. Ms Smith, employed as a Merck sales representative in Toms River since 2004, claims she was demoted, received lower performance evaluations and was subject to a hostile work environment after returning from maternity leave in 2010.
In April this year, the US District Court for the District of New Jersey ordered the two law firms bringing the lawsuit, to notify 3,183 female sales representatives across the country be given notice of their opportunity to join the $250 million Equal Pay Act lawsuit against Merck. There are still three weeks left for current and former female employees to join this class action.
But in a statement, Merck said the company would continue to vigorously defend itself and remained fully committed to providing equal employment argued that the case would ultimately not proceed because it ‘lacks merit’.
“This is a procedural step that is typical in the early stages of lawsuits of this kind,” it said, “and it does not mean any employees have been treated unfairly. 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 statement added that the company provides multiple avenues for employees to raise concerns and to ensure that those concerns are addressed.