Eli Lilly's employment decisions under fire once again as sales rep lodges age discrimination claim

Not even six months after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Eli Lilly over alleged age bias, the company is at the center of another discrimination lawsuit. 

Monica Richards, a senior sales rep at Lilly, argues the company has been attempting to correct an employment “skew” toward older workers for several years. To do this, the company has promoted millennial workers over older workers and denied promotions for older workers, including Richards, her attorneys argued in Indiana federal court.

Eli Lilly denies the allegations and told Fierce Pharma in an emailed statement that it does not discriminate “on the basis of age, race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, protected veteran status, disability or any other legally protected status."

"We deny the allegations in the complaint. We remain committed to fostering and promoting a culture of diversity and respect," a spokesperson said.

Richards started with Lilly in 2016 and two years later joined a sales team called the Boston Primary Care District Team, the suit says. In 2021, that team’s manager unexpectedly took medical leave, and Richards was asked to lead the team on a temporary basis.

Under Richards' leadership, the team outperformed dozens of other units in Lilly's diabetes business unit, the lawsuit says. Near the end of her interim term, the manager passed away.

Richard interviewed for the position but was passed over for a 27-year-old employee with less than two and a half years of sales experience, her lawsuit says.

In her new lawsuit, Richards is asking to be put into the position from which she was "unlawfully denied," plus awarded damages. She also filed the lawsuit on behalf of "similarly situated" Eli Lilly employees.

It's not the first time Lilly has faced age discrimination allegations.

Last September, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Lilly, saying the company snubbed older workers for sales representative positions from 2017 to 2021. The agency said that in 2017, Lilly changed its hiring practices to focus on “early career” and millennial hires. From there, the company began a practice of intentionally under-hiring older candidates for sales rep positions, the EEOC alleged.

Lilly denied the allegations at the time.

Before that, in September of 2021, two job applicants claimed the company “systemically excluded” older candidates for sales positions, instead hiring interns until there were none left to hire. The company would “sometimes” post positions publicly, the plaintiffs said, but routinely eliminated older applicants early in the process.

Of course, Eli Lilly is not alone in biopharma for facing age discrimination claims. Novo Nordisk was sued by the EEOC last June for denying a lateral transfer to a 62-year-old employee in favor of a less-qualified 33-year-old because the younger employee could fill the position “long-term,” the agency alleged.