AbbVie careful about gay rights in its discussion of a new trial

AbbVie ($ABBV) has asked a federal appeals panel to decide whether a new trial is really warranted in its case with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) over the price of an HIV drug. But the drugmaker was very careful to point out that it is not asking the court to disrupt any rights that gays and lesbians have achieved through a recent Supreme Court ruling.

"Abbott condemns discrimination in all forms, including in jury selection, and no discrimination occurred here," AbbVie said in a brief, according to Reuters. AbbVie inherited the case when it was spun off from Abbott ($ABT).

A judge earlier this year ordered a new trial for GSK, which had sued Abbott Laboratories for jacking up the price of its AIDS treatment Norvir, because Abbott excluded a gay man from the jury.

Spokesman Dirk Van Eeden told Reuters that in asking for reconsideration, AbbVie is simply "raising the fact that a well-established procedure in jury selection was not followed," he said. "This omission may have important privacy implications for potential jurors, such as the possibility of having to disclose their sexual orientation in court and under oath. These implications go beyond the underlying case and may warrant a larger panel's consideration."

In its original complaint, Glaxo accused Abbott of raising the price on Norvir, a drug that is used in GSK's combo drug with Lexiva. It argued that Abbott upped the price 400% so that patients would be more likely to use Abbott's own product combo pill, Kaletra. Originally, the trial jury decided that Abbott had breached a licensing deal with Glaxo, but that the pricing move didn't violate competition laws. Glaxo was awarded $3.5 million instead of the $571 million in damages GSK sought.

When the 9th Circuit Court ordered a new trial in a unanimous decision, it cited gay rights, saying that striking someone off a jury "on the basis of sexual orientation continue[s] this deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation's most cherished rites and rituals."

HIV drug prices are a constant concern in the gay community. When Abbott challenged the potential juror, Glaxo objected by saying the move was discriminatory, but the trial judge allowed the exclusion. But the appeals court reconsidered the matter in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. v. Windsor.

- read the Reuters story