A senior sales representative at New Jersey-based drugmaker Merck & Co., Inc., who is described as a top performer has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the pharmaceutical giant systematically discriminates against pregnant women and those with children. In a proposed class action, the woman claims that Merck's policies punish women for taking maternity leave and systematically prevent them from advancing within the company.
According to the lawsuit just filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the woman was hired by Merck in 2004 and was a top sales performer until she took maternity leave in 2010 -- and was demoted. Her team leader told her that the timing of her maternity leave had resulted in her demotion and had also made her ineligible for a prestigious annual sales award she had apparently won several times before. Everyone else on her sales team -- even those with lower sales numbers -- won that award in 2011, except another woman with children and a newly hired man.
The lawsuit also claims that Merck’s sales incentives encourage discrimination against women, forcing them to choose between motherhood and success. The incentive plan, she maintains, keeps women who take leave from moving into positions where they can interact with senior managers and develop contacts, a key to success in the position.
Moreover, the woman contends, when managers or directors at Merck take family or medical leave, their compensation is decreased. Worst of all, the lawsuit claims, Merck actively urges women of childbearing age to leave the company, because when they maternity or child care leave, it negatively affects company sales totals.
Finally, the woman says that Merck retaliated against her when she tried to call their attention to the problem, despite a company policy that prohibits discrimination and retaliation.
She has petitioned the district court for certification of her complaint as a class action seeking compensation on behalf of similarly-situated women who work or have worked for Merck since 2009. The lawsuit, if successful, would involve at least $100 million in damages.
Source: Philly.com, “Lawsuit alleges Merck discriminates against women,” Associated Press, May 9, 2013