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Female sales reps: Daiichi Sankyo discriminates

February 11, 2013 GMT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Six current and former female sales representatives are accusing drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo of gender discrimination in a $100 million class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit states the women are trying to end employment discrimination for themselves and several hundred other female sales reps who currently work for or have worked for the U.S. arm of Daiichi Sankyo Co. Ltd. The Japanese pharmaceutical company makes cholesterol and blood pressure drugs.

The suit alleges that the company pays female sales staff less than men for the same work, promotes women more slowly and treats women who are pregnant or have young children worse than other employees.

A spokeswoman for Daiichi Sankyo Inc., the U.S. subsidiary, said in a statement that it follows all laws regarding equal opportunity and nondiscrimination. She said the company is reviewing the lawsuit but doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Daiichi Sankyo Inc., based in Parsippany, N.J., has about 3,000 employees in the U.S.

Sanford Heisler, a law firm specializing in employment discrimination and whistleblower cases, filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in San Francisco. The complaint demands a jury trial.

“Daiichi Sankyo reaps multibillion dollar profits by relying upon a predominantly female sales force” in the U.S., the complaint states.

“Daiichi treats them largely as props in a sales and marketing strategy. Like dinners, sports outings, and speaking fees, female sales reps are considered one of many variations on the inducements that the pharmaceutical company dangles to sway doctors to its brand. Daiichi asks its female sales reps to wine and dine male doctors; offer friendships and gifts to foster ‘quid pro quo’ relationships; and devote unbounded attention to obtain their allegiance to Daiichi’s drugs,” the complaint adds.

When female sales staff seek promotions or have children, the suit alleges, they hit a glass ceiling, with male employees holding nearly all U.S. management positions and controlling decisions on salary, promotions and terminations.

“Female sales employees of childbearing age have been cautioned against committing ‘career suicide’ if they decide to become pregnant, take maternity leave, or seek part-time work schedules at Daiichi,” the complaint states. “Women who have been pregnant while working at Daiichi Sankyo have been faced with situations where they were called ‘baby makers;’ forced to attend work meetings in smoke-filled bars while pregnant; subjected to suspect compensation ‘offsets’ after returning from maternity leave; discouraged from breastfeeding, and ‘managed out’ or demoted for complaining about gender discrimination or for becoming pregnant.”

The six female plaintiffs are seeking class action status for the case, damages totaling more than $100 million for all the women in the class, adjustment of wages and benefits and awards of back pay, lost benefits and preferential rights to jobs. The suit also seeks an injunction against future discrimination and implementation of policies to provide women with equal employment opportunities.

The law firm handling the case, Sanford Heisler, in May 2010 won a jury verdict of $253 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. in another gender discrimination class-action case.

Daiichi Sankyo has a total of more than 30,000 employees worldwide. It sells medicines including the blood thinner Effient, cholesterol drug Welchol, Zelboraf for advanced melanoma and Azur, Benicar and Tribenzor for high blood pressure.