Sanford Heisler Files $100m+ Discrimination Suit Against Pharma Giant Merck &
Class Action Asserts Company Discriminates Against Female Sales Reps
NEWARK, N.J., May 9, 2013
NEWARK, N.J., May 9, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --Sanford Heisler LLP today filed a
$100 million individual and class action suit in the U.S. District Court for
New Jersey against pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc.
The action was brought by Kelli Smith on behalf of all female sales
representatives at Merck. The complaint 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's legal team. "Its discrimination
against mothers is particularly egregious because Merck's compensation
structure decreases the pay of managers whose subordinates take maternity
Other members of Ms. Smith's legal team include Kate Mueting, an associate in
Washington, D.C, and Deborah Marcuse, a Senior Litigation Counsel in New York.
Sanford Heisler LLP has a long record of victories in employment
discrimination matters brought by female employees of global pharmaceutical
companies, including a recent case against Novartis that resulted in the
largest ever monetary award in a U.S. employment discrimination case.
Ms. Smith's suit 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
"Female employees are discouraged from having children, and punished when they
do," said Ms. Mueting. "Ms. Smith's supervisors admitted that Ms. Smith's 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
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's 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's 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.
Merck (NYSE:MRK), headquartered in Whitehouse Station, NJ, employs some 83,000
individuals worldwide. Its 2012 global revenue was $47.3 billion, including
$20.4 billion in the U.S. The company manufactures pharmaceuticals for many
conditions, including women's health.
About Sanford Heisler
Sanford Heisler is a public interest law firm with offices in Washington,
D.C., New York, and San Francisco that specializes in employment
discrimination, wage and hour, qui tam and other civil rights matters. The
firm has extensive experience in complex class action litigation, having
successfully represented thousands of individuals in major class action cases
in the United States. The firm also represents select individual clients with
a particular emphasis on the representation of executives and lawyers in
employment disputes and whistleblowers. In May 2010, the firm won the largest
jury award in the U.S. in a gender discrimination employment class action when
a jury returned a verdict of $253 million in compensatory and punitive damages
against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. In 2012, the firm settled a
wage and hour case on behalf of sales reps employed by Novartis
Pharmaceuticals for $99 million. For more information, contact Sanford
Heisler at (202) 499-5200.
For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos, 201-493-1027,
SOURCE Sanford Heisler LLP
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