Newark, NJ: A $100 million individual and class action suit has been filed in the US District Court for New Jersey against pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc. The action, filed by Sanford Heisler LLP, was brought by Kelli Smith on behalf of all female sales representatives at Merck.
The lawsuit asserts that the company systematically discriminates against its female and pregnant employees in assignment, promotion, advancement, and pay and retaliates against female employees in violation of Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
"Merck is a male-dominated workplace openly hostile to the success and advancement of women,"said David Sanford, Founder and Chairman of Sanford Heisler and lead attorney on Ms. Smith' legal team. "Its discrimination against mothers is particularly egregious because Merck' compensation structure decreases the pay of managers whose subordinates take maternity leave."
Ms. Smith' lawsuit details a widespread pattern of employment discrimination. Merck discourages management from hiring and promoting women, attempts to force pregnant women to leave the company so their managers' compensation will not be affected, and structures compensation so that managers and colleagues of pregnant women get paid less because they work with women who take maternity leave.
"Female employees are discouraged from having children, and punished when they do,"said Ms. Mueting, also working on Ms. Smith' legal team. "Ms. Smith' supervisors admitted that Ms. Smith' low ranking was due to the 'timing of her baby.' High-level company officials, including Human Resources, refused to address her discriminatory placement, and attempted to discourage Ms. Smith from raising allegations of discrimination."
The complaint asserts employees on maternity leave are ineligible for merit awards and recognition for their sales, even when their sales surpass those of their male counterparts. According to Ms. Smith' legal team, Merck has long been on notice about its company-wide gender and pregnancy discrimination, but has taken no steps to remedy them. In fact, the complaint notes that Merck routinely retaliates against women who raise discrimination complaints ??" another violation of federal and state employment statutes.
Ms. Smith is a Senior Sales Representative at Merck in Toms River, NJ. After joining the company in 2004, she received national recognition for her sales productivity and outstanding leadership. However, when she became pregnant after five successful years at the company, Ms. Smith faced hostility from her manager, who withdrew his support and refused to acknowledge her as a member of his team.
When Ms. Smith returned from giving birth, Merck demoted her to the same rank as entry-level sales representatives. Ms. Smith' managers later told her that her low ranking was due to her pregnancy and maternity leave. "Merck creates a hostile environment where female and pregnant employees are harassed and marginalized,"said Deborah Marcuse. "Managers refer to women as "whores"and routinely exclude them from events and networking opportunities."
The class action complaint requests court intervention that would prevent further gender and pregnancy discrimination.