Former Biogen sales manager Danita Erickson reported a colleague's misconduct and got fired a few months later. Now, she's won nearly $6 million in damages from a jury that determined she'd been wrongfully terminated for blowing the whistle.
Erickson, a former Biogen territory manager based in Tacoma, Washington, sued the drugmaker last year for retaliation and discrimination after she reported a violation of the False Claims Act. Instead of backing her up, Erickson's boss focused on her health condition and later terminated her, the lawsuit alleged.
Biogen denied the claims and asked the court to toss the case, but a jury this week sided with Erickson and awarded a $5.9 million verdict.
A Biogen spokesman said the company is considering its legal options.
According to the lawsuit, Erickson's supervisor accompanied her on a September 2017 trip to Alaska when she suffered a migraine and had to reschedule appointments. She ended up completing her duties, the suit says, but her supervisor then took an interest in her migraines.
Erickson's supervisor repeatedly asked about her episodes 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 the 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 to get a commission and bonus.
According to the suit, that involved "submitting false diagnostic codes" for the prescription. Erickson protested by telling her supervisor “you need to put a stop to this," but her boss allowed it.
Erickson then alerted Biogen ethics personnel to the issue, the lawsuit states, and after some time, her boss became aware of the company's investigation. Erickson's boss retaliated by cutting her out of communications and issuing a veiled threat, the suit says; by March 2018, the company informed her that her job would be eliminated in a “restructuring.”
Erickson's lawsuit wasn't the only discrimination case Biogen faced last year. In January, former manufacturing executive Jack Armitage sued Biogen 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.