Alkermes hit with 3 gender discrimination lawsuits from former staffers

Alkermes faces allegations of gender discrimination and more from three former employees.

As biopharma grapples with a widespread gender diversity problem, Alkermes faces three lawsuits alleging discriminatory treatment toward female employees, with one suit even claiming it's the company's "modus operandi" to place certain employees on a performance improvement plan that eventually leads to termination.

The lawsuits, from a vial inspector in Ohio, a sales rep in Pennsylvania and an associate director of government affairs in Nevada, allege discriminatory treatment from male supervisors, retaliation and more. The Boston Business Journal first reported on the filings.

The former employees said they faced increasing levels of harsh treatment from supervisors before termination. Two said they reached out to the company's human resources team and that their complaints were dismissed without any consideration from Alkermes leadership. Alkermes didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuits.

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Allegations from the plaintiffs vary, but the vial inspector in Ohio, who is 62, also said her supervisor made ageist comments such as "you're slow because you're old." In her filing, she said she assisted in a sexual harassment investigation involving other colleagues and made similar allegations against the alleged perpetrator. The company terminated her months later, she said.

In Pennsylvania, a sales rep said her supervisor viewed the plaintiff as a "female caregiver" when she took leave to care for an ill family member, commenting that she wasn't up to the job tasks. The supervisor also made comments about the plaintiff's dress and weight, according to the filing. She said she complained to HR about her boss but saw no improvement, so her supervisor became "even more hostile" and "even more emboldened." She then faced false accusations of tardiness, a falsified expense report and for failing to report an adverse event, her complaint says.

She called those "false, manufactured" reasons for her firing.

And in the third suit, a government affairs employee said she was placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) after complaining about discrimination despite her strong job performance.

"It is well known that placing female employees on a PIP, ending in termination, for alleged inadequate job performance is Defendant’s modus operandi," the suit says. In fact, the plaintiff argues, the company "is so brazen with these actions" that at a national company meeting, a sales rep told the plaintiff she "would not be with the company for much longer."

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Around biopharma, many top drugmakers have faced allegations of gender discrimination, including Pfizer, Novartis, Merck and Bayer in recent years. In a survey conducted by FierceBiotech last year, 60% of female responders gave biopharma a D or failing grade for gender diversity. Only 3.9% of the 311 female respondents said the industry earned an A grade for gender diversity. The issue came to a head in early 2016 at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference when sexist behavior at an after-party sparked an industrywide backlash.

One of the former employees to sue Alkermes said in her lawsuit that she was involved in growing sales for the company's alcohol and opioid dependence med Vivitrol through a lobbying and legislative push in California. Alkermes is facing an investigation on that front. Earlier this month, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced a probe regarding "an aggressive lobbying and marketing campaign to increase the use of Vivitrol instead of cheaper treatment alternatives, like methadone and buprenorphine, from other manufacturers."

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Responding in a statement to FiercePharma, the company said it doesn't "apologize for engaging in advocacy practices, and will continue to do so because these forms of communication and information exchange are vital to increasing awareness of Vivitrol and the need to improve the opioid treatment system." Further, the drugmaker said it will cooperate and that executives "look forward to telling our story."