Following a high-profile chief financial officer exit earlier this year and a discrimination lawsuit filed a month later, Eli Lilly is again in the spotlight for a personnel issue—this time for alleged age bias.
In a proposed class-action lawsuit filed this week in Indianapolis federal court, two former Eli Lilly job applicants say the company has "systematically excluded" older candidates for diabetes and primary care sales positions in favor of younger workers, even if the older applicants were "equally or more qualified."
Lilly denies the allegations, a spokesperson said over email.
Pharma sales reps Jared Grimes, 49, and Georgia Edmondson, 55, sued Eli Lilly alleging the company recruits for certain positions only through on-campus activities and internships. The company fills those sales rep positions with interns "until there are no more interns left," the lawsuit says.
"Only after exhausting all potential intern hires does Eli Lilly sometimes post these positions publicly," the plaintiffs claim.
If the company does post a position publicly, "older applicants are routinely eliminated early in the process," Grimes and Edmondson say in their suit. That's because Lilly managers have an incentive to meet the company's "discriminatory quotas" to hire "millennials" and "early career professionals," the suit claims.
The plaintiffs say the hiring practices "are no accident" but rather a priority of CEO David Ricks. After taking the position, Ricks "began to publicly stress the fact that he wanted to increase the percentage of millennial sales representatives to 40% of the overall sales force by 2020," the lawsuit claims.
Lilly 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," the company's spokesperson said. "We are committed to fostering and promoting a culture of diversity and respect. We do not comment on the details of ongoing litigation."
Grimes worked for Eli Lilly from 2008 to 2017, but was laid off during a restructuring.
The suit comes months after some high-profile controversies for the company earlier this year. In February, the company parted ways with CFO Josh Smiley after an investigation concluded he engaged in "consensual though inappropriate personal communications" with employees. As part of that departure, Smiley forfeited $24 million in cash and equity awards.
A month later, longtime biopharma lobbyist Sonya Elling sued the company under the Civil Rights Act, claiming she was wrongfully terminated and mistreated by managers on the basis that she is a "strong, assertive female," who didn't "conform to traditional gender stereotypes." The company settled that case in late June.
Lilly isn't alone in facing age discrimination claims in the pharma industry. In a recent case, an ex-AstraZeneca manager claimed she was fired for her age and for not being willing to market drugs beyond their FDA labels. In that case, a jury awarded her $2.4 million.
Aside from AstraZeneca, biopharma companies such as Biogen and Teva have been hit with claims of age discrimination in recent years.
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that Grimes previously worked for Eli Lilly.