Taking Aim at Pharma, Again

It’s been roughly three years since we reported that East Hanover, N.J.-based Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp., the U.S. arm of the Swiss drug maker, had been fined $250 million in punitive damages. It ultimately agreed to pay $152 million.

We mentioned at the time that the jury verdict served as a reminder of the very steep price companies can pay if they’re on the losing end of one of these class-actions.

Glass CeilingOf course, that was prior to the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes decision, which made it a lot more difficult to certify class actions.

Well, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the Novartis case, Sanford Heisler LLP, are back, this time announcing a class-action case against Tokyo-based Daiichi Sankyo, in which six current and former female representatives are alleging discrimination.

In the complaint, the plantiffs’ attorneys allege that …

Daiichi Sankyo pays female sales employees less than male employees for doing the same work; promotes or advances female sales employees at a slower rate than male sales employees; treats pregnant employees and working mothers of young children adversely compared to non-pregnant employees, male employees, or non-caregivers; and subjects women to other discriminatory terms and conditions of employment.

And that …

 … a discrete group of predominantly male Daiichi executives and senior sales managers keep a tight rein on employment decisions, including decisions regarding sales employees’ compensation, advancement, and other terms and conditions of employment. Through this male-dominated leadership structure, the company has approved and implemented policies, practices and decisions that have systemically discriminated against female employees.

Several reporters were told by the company via email that it does not comment on pending litigation and “complies with all laws regarding equal opportunity and non-discrimination.”

I spoke to Tom Lewis, shareholder and chair of the Employment Litigation Group at Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, N.J., to get his thoughts on the action.

Lewis predicts that the plaintiff’s attorneys will likely put “front and center” the fact that the firm is Japanese … that “a Japanese company wouldn’t treat its female employees as well as an American company would.”

“But let’s remember,” he adds, “that a class-action lawsuit like this has to be proven”—and that may not be easy.

Lewis notes that he’s represented many foreign-owned companies and his experience is that they “often go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that, culturally, they’re complying with the laws of this country.”

He also suggests it makes perfect sense that the plantiff’s attorneys would select San Francisco to file the suit in, since the employment laws in California are much more employee-friendly.

We’ll have to watch and see how this case eventually plays out. But this much is certain: The plaintiffs in this case will have a tougher hill to climb in gaining class-action status.