Biogen has found itself the target of an age discrimination lawsuit that hinges on whether the company marginalized a former manufacturing executive as part of a campaign to cater to millennials.
Jack Armitage claimed in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in North Carolina that he was stripped of his responsibilities last year as associate director of manufacturing at a solid dose plant in Durham and his job was given to a younger colleague. He said he was given busy work and fired after he finally refused to do it.
The company, in a response filed last week, acknowledged that Armitage was terminated but said it was because he had contributed significantly to a “toxic environment” at the plant, “creating a culture of fear in which Biogen employees were afraid to contribute to improving operations at the plant.”
A Biogen spokesman today declined to comment, but in its legal response the company denied the age discrimination, pointing out that Armitage’s replacement was 48, just four years younger than he was when he left the company.
In his lawsuit, Armitage said he had worked as a quality-control supervisor for about 12 years when he was promoted in 2015 to associate director of manufacturing at the Durham plant. Armitage said he was the oldest member of the management team at Biogen’s Research Triangle Park facility, an operation that has gone through a number of changes.
He claimed he handled all of his responsibilities but that in 2016 things began to change. That shift, he says, came when the HR office in Durham began “a campaign to recruit and promote more so-called 'millennial' workers and 'giving them greater say in the management of the company.'"
Armitage said that effort left fewer opportunities for older workers. In early 2017, the manufacturing executive says he was stripped of his core job duties, removed from his supervisory responsibility and told he would report to a satellite facility. His job was given to a younger worker.
He claims he was given “busy work” that was of no real value to the company and when he complained, he was offered a severance package. When he refused it, the ex-manufacturing executive says he was marginalized further, given a desk and a computer but no work. In late March, he called in to say he would return to work when they had something meaningful for him to do. He was terminated later that day.
According to Biogen, he was let go for “abandonment” of his job. To Armitage, it smacked of age discrimination and bias in favor of a younger generation.
While there have been plenty of gender discrimination lawsuits in the industry, age bias suits have been uncommon. In 2012, a former Roche sales representative was awarded $1.8 million after claiming that he was repeatedly called “old school” by a new manager and that he was retaliated against when he complained to higher-ups about the treatment.