Ex-Biogen manager claims she was fired after filing integrity complaint

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Biogen and AbbVie pulled Zinbryta from markets worldwide in March. (Biogen)

Biogen didn't have much success on the market with multiple sclerosis drug Zinbryta, and now the drug is at the center of a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit by a former manager.

Former senior territorial business manager Danita Erickson sued Biogen July 13 in Washington, saying concerns she shared about off-label promotion of the drug ended in her firing. Biogen declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In her suit, Erickson says her problems at Biogen started in September 2017 during a business trip to Alaska with her supervisor. During the trip, she suffered from migraines and had to reschedule some appointments. According to the suit, she was able to complete her duties for the trip.

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But from that point on, Erickson's supervisor repeatedly asked about her migraines and at one point said she should find another job that didn't require air travel, according to the lawsuit.

Erickson claims the situation got worse when she protested a move by a colleague to "get credit" for an off-label prescription for now-pulled multiple sclerosis drug Zinbryta. According to the suit, the colleague "learned that an Olympia hematologist was prescribing Zinbryta for an aplastic anemia Medicare patient." So, the colleague used a Zinbryta start form to take credit for that prescription in order to get a commission and bonus. According to the suit, that involved "submitting false diagnostic codes" for the prescription.

Erickson protested the move, according to the suit, but her supervisors didn't step in. Instead, the off-label prescription was celebrated on at least two instances, the suit says. At one point, Erickson flatly told her boss: "You need to put a stop to this."

The former manager then took to Biogen's corporate integrity hotline and spoke with a company attorney. The investigation didn't yield any results, and when Erickson's supervisor found out about the complaint, Erickson faced increasingly retaliatory actions, the lawsuit claims. In March, Erickson's boss and a HR representative informed her that her position had been eliminated in a restructuring, the suit says. The HR rep on the call was the same person who'd previously heard Erickson's concerns about potential discrimination and retaliation. 

RELATED: Age bias suit against Biogen claims its North Carolina manufacturing plant favored millennials 

According to the suit, Erickson's territory goal for Zinbryta was one sale per quarter. The drug didn't have much of a run on the market after its May 2016 approval; in March, Biogen and AbbVie pulled the drug worldwide on safety concerns. In the U.S., the drug carried a black-box warning against use in patients with liver problems and was subject to a risk management program. 

Erickson's case isn't the only discrimination lawsuit Biogen has faced this year. In January, former manufacturing executive Jack Armitage sued for age discrimination, alleging the company gave him busy work and fired him when he refused to do it. The company denied the allegation, saying Armitage's replacement was only four years younger.