U.S. Bias Suit Against Bayer Widens

By | May 26, 2011

Bayer AG has been hit with a wider U.S. lawsuit, accusing Germany’s largest drugmaker of discriminating against women in pay, promotions and pregnancy leave and fostering a hostile work environment.

As it did when the case was first filed on March 21, Bayer denied the accusations.

The amended complaint adds two plaintiffs, for a total of eight, and now alleges bias against female sales representatives. It still seeks $100 million of damages.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the changes made the case similar to a lawsuit that Novartis AG settled last July for $175 million to resolve claims of bias against 5,600 of the Swiss drugmaker’s sales representatives.

Wednesday’s lawsuit in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, accuses Bayer of limiting women’s ability to achieve better and higher-paying jobs, and condoning harassment in the workplace.

Sanford Wittels & Heisler, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit now covers several hundred, and potentially more than 1,000 female workers. The same firm represented the plaintiffs in the Novartis case.

“We’re hearing stories that are so similar to the evidence that we showed at the Novartis trial,” Katherine Kimpel, a partner at the law firm, said in an interview.

“Even when confronted with explicit claims of discrimination, Bayer did nothing,” she added.

Bayer said it is committed to treating all workers equally. “As before, Bayer denies the allegations of gender discrimination and will vigorously defend itself against these claims,” spokeswoman Rosemarie Yancosek said in a statement.

The new plaintiffs are Natalie Celske, described as a top-performing senior sales consultant who has worked for Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals for 13 years, and Vera Santangelo, a financial specialist in Bayer HealthCare Consumer Care who has worked for the company since 2006.

Celske said her supervisor would ignore her efforts to discuss her career, telling her she was being “difficult,” and respond to legitimate work-related questions with replies such as “What are you talking about?” and “Are you dumb?”

Santangelo, meanwhile, accused a senior lawyer in her unit of making inappropriate comments, such as telling her “thank you very much for wearing that shirt,” and telling a co-worker who was practicing CPR at a training course “I really like how you look on all fours.”

In the Novartis case, a Manhattan jury last May 19 awarded the plaintiffs $250 million in punitive damages, finding that the company engaged in a pattern of discrimination from 2002 to 2007. The $175 million settlement was announced on July 14.

The Bayer case is Barghout et al v. Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals et al, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 11-01576.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, editing by Bernard Orr)

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