Sanofi promised pandemic hazard pay to vaccine plant workers, then offered 3 days off instead, lawsuit says

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A Sanofi vaccine plant worker in Pennsylvania alleges the company and a staffing firm didn't follow through on a hazard pay promise. (Sanofi)

As the pandemic heated up this spring, Sanofi scrambled to make sure its plants would continue to turn out the drugs and vaccines patients needed—and it offered certain workers hazard pay as part of that effort. But according to a new lawsuit, the French drugmaker hasn't paid up.

Courtland Davis, a laboratory technician at a Sanofi vaccine plant in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, sued the company and staffing firm Yoh Services for failing to live up to an April promise of 15% hazard pay during the pandemic. Davis, who is "jointly employed" by Sanofi and Yoh, is seeking class-action status for her claims.

This spring, a project manager at the plant emailed Davis and more than 60 other technicians to promise increased wages during the "duration of the pandemic," the lawsuit says.

The pay bump was offered to compensate for an "increased risk of exposure" during the pandemic, the email stated. The manager, Charles Hollow, was apparently employed by Yoh but worked at the Sanofi plant and identified himself in emails as a Sanofi Pasteur project manager.

In the weeks that followed, the technicians noticed their pay didn't increase and complained to their managers, the suit says; even so, the companies "repeatedly failed" to honor the promise.

In the end, instead of issuing hazard pay, the manager in November forwarded an email from a Yoh executive who thanked the group for their work and offered three additional days of time off, the lawsuit says.

RELATED: Sanofi gets COVID-19 sales boost as CEO touts vaccine manufacturing prowess 

“We truly appreciate all of these efforts,” the Philadelphia-based Yoh executive wrote to workers, according to the suit. “What we would like to do is thank you for your efforts and help in the best way we can. As such, we are rewarding each of you with an additional three (3) days of paid time off.” 

Hours later, the project manager confirmed via email the time off "is in lieu of hazard pay," the suit says.

A Sanofi representative said the company hasn't seen the lawsuit and doesn't comment on pending litigation.

As the COVID-19 outbreak gained steam earlier this year, executives for many drug companies said it was a top priority to keep plants open. And despite the life-changing effects of the pandemic, pharma’s supply chain has mostly held up. Even as many employees have shifted to remote work, plant workers have continued reporting for duty.

RELATED: Sanofi, despite COVID-19, sees early gains from CEO Hudson's strategy revamp 

As for Sanofi, the company in April reported a first-quarter sales boost from the pandemic. The drugmaker’s GSK-partnered COVID-19 vaccine just last week encountered an R&D setback, and the partners are now working to get a phase 2b trial off the ground. In the third quarter, Sanofi’s flu vaccines posted a revenue record and the company started seeing gains from CEO Paul Hudson’s strategy revamp.