Jury sides with Merck and its execs in gender-bias case

Merck & Co. ($MRK) won the day in a gender discrimination suit on Tuesday, as a federal jury found that former employee Kerri Colicchio failed to prove she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy.

Colicchio had claimed that she was passed over for a promotion to vice president because she was preparing to take maternity leave. When she returned to work after her son's birth, Colicchio claimed, the new VP bullied and harassed her, and she was fired several months later.

The verdict came after a four-week trial that pitted Colicchio against not only the company but also that direct supervisor, Laurel LaBauve, and Merck EVP J. Chris Scalet. The jury found no cause of action against those two either, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.

It was one of two gender-discrimination cases pending against Merck. The company also faces class-action claims from sales reps who say the Big Pharma fostered a "boy's club" atmosphere. According to that lawsuit, managers paid women less and refused to promote them because of their gender or pregnancies. The suit seeks $250 million in damages.

Merck has vociferously denied the allegations, saying the case "lacks merit." The company "is fully committed to providing equal employment opportunities for all employees and has a strong anti-discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of characteristics, such as gender, race, age, disability and sexual orientation," Merck said when the suit was filed in 2013.

Last fall, a U.S. judge refused to throw out the suit. In refusing to dismiss the class-action suit, U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano said the allegations are "plausible," though it's "premature to determine whether plaintiffs have significant proof."

This type of lawsuit isn't new in Big Pharma; several of Merck's rivals have faced similar claims. The Merck reps' allegations mirror those in discrimination lawsuits against Daiichi Sankyo, Forest Laboratories, Bayer, and Novartis ($NVS), which settled its discrimination fight in 2010 for $175 million.

- read the NJ Law Journal story

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