Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals was handed a pounding $100 million headache today that even its highly-publicized aspirin is unlikely to relieve. The law firm of Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP, filed a class action complaint in U.S. District Court for New Jersey, citing instances of illegal gender discrimination that echo the experiences of female employees at Novartis Pharmaceuticals who successfully won a jury award of more than $250 million last year.
The six Class Representatives Victoria Barghout, Jennifer Christiansen, Barbara Feringa, Jennifer Musumeci, Laura Reilly, and Karen Salomon filed the complaint on behalf of themselves and a class of female employees in the United States under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and New Jersey law. The document details a pattern and practice of discrimination in pay, promotions, and the treatment of pregnant women and mothers by the multinational corporation.
The individual plaintiffs and the class are represented by Katherine Kimpel of Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP, in Washington, D.C. Ms. Kimpel recently served as Co-lead Counsel in Velez v. Novartis, securing a verdict of more than $253 million, the largest jury award in the U.S. in a gender discrimination case.
"Bayer engages in systemic discrimination against its female employees - particularly those with family responsibilities - by paying them less than their counterparts, denying them promotions into better and higher paying positions, limiting their employment opportunities to lower and less desirable job classifications, and exposing them to different treatment and a hostile work environment," said Ms. Kimpel. "To make matters worse, Bayer is often blatant about its disregard for its female employees."
According to the complaint, Bayer has published and disseminated articles that suggest men are better suited to be managers than women, describing females as prone to "mood swings," "indecision," and "backstabbing;" and concluding that "women with power are 'loose cannons' who often feel threatened by colleagues." The complaint also cites comments by managers disparaging working mothers and declaring that Bayer "needed to stop hiring women of reproductive age."
The plaintiffs assert that senior managers have made negative comments about women discussing or acknowledging child-care responsibilities and have overlooked female employees who availed themselves of federally-protected maternity leave for promotions. As Class Representative Victoria Barghout explained, "My pregnancy should have been a time of joy, laughter and happiness. But I was not able to enjoy that because of Bayer's discrimination against me, and I will never be able to get that experience back. No company has the right to do that. Bayer does not respect the mothers who work for it; instead it rewards hard-working mothers and pregnant women with demotions, pay reductions, and denial of job opportunities. All of this from a company that is supposed to concern itself with women's health."
In response to their complaints of discrimination and retaliation, the Class Representatives were told by Bayer managers they should "know better" and that "the company won't do anything about [their complaints]." Corroborating this lack of concern, the Bayer's Human Resources Department responded to females' complaints by characterizing gender discrimination as "a grey area" that should be handled by the employee, not the Company.
According to Class Representative Jennifer Musumeci, "We and the other women at Bayer take our careers very seriously, and our income is important to our families. For years, we tried to overcome the prejudice and discrimination at Bayer by proving ourselves to be even better than required. When that didn't work, we went to HR and Senior Management. Human Resources and Senior Management have failed us and Bayer's female employees. It is our hope that through the court, we can make things better for women at the Company."
The Class Representatives have worked or continue to work at Bayer in Associate Director, Deputy Director, and Director positions in the Women's Healthcare and Oncology Divisions. The proposed class includes all female employees of Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals situated in Associate Director positions or higher. Class members seek declaratory and injunctive relief, back pay, front pay and lost benefits, as well as compensatory, nominal and punitive damages in an amount of $100 million or more for themselves and similarly situated female employees.
"The situation at Bayer is a quintessential example of how the glass ceiling and maternal walls are still firmly in place in 2011," said Ms. Kimpel. "The Class Representatives are an incredible group of women, each of whom generated exemplary results that were minimized, overlooked, or otherwise under-recognized by Bayer. Bayer profited off my clients' hard work, but refused to acknowledge that hard work equitably. This lawsuit is about holding Bayer accountable to equal employment opportunity laws."
Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals is a subsidiary of Bayer Corporation, the American arm of Bayer AG, a multinational entity based in Germany. In North America, Bayer Corporation had 2010 net sales of $10.86 billion and employed 16,400 individuals at year-end. Bayer Corporation is incorporated under the laws of Indiana and headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA. Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals is a subsidiary of Bayer Corporation that develops and markets prescription medications, biological products, and biotechnology. It is incorporated under the laws of Delaware and headquartered in Wayne, New Jersey.
About Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP -Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP (SWH) is a boutique class-action litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. SWH specializes in civil rights and general public interest cases, representing plaintiffs with employment discrimination, labor and wage violations, predatory lending, whistle-blower, consumer fraud, and other claims. Along with an expertise in class actions, SWH also represents select individuals and has developed a particular expertise in the representation of executives in employment disputes. For more information, visit www.swhlegal.com