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System Of Discrimination At Merck Unfairly Targets Women, Mothers

Kelli Smith, a sales representative for Merck, claims that she was essentially punished by the company for having a baby in 2010. She took maternity leave after the birth of her child and asserts in a recently-filed pregnancy discrimination lawsuit that she received poor performance reviews after taking job-protected medical leave that stalled her career.

Smith is seeking to assert not only her own rights to a workplace free from pregnancy discrimination, but also those of her former colleagues who experienced Merck's "[S]ystematic, companywide discriminatory treatment of its female employees on the basis of their gender and their taking federal and state-protected pregnancy leave."

Smith has worked for Merck since 2004 and is a senior sales rep in the New Jersey area. In her pregnancy discrimination lawsuit she claims that the drugmaker discourages employment and advancement of women within the sales force by penalizing directors and managers when women take job-protected medical leave.

The compensation structures of higher level employees within the sales force depend on the sales numbers of those below them, asserts Smith. When women are on medical leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or other medically-protected leave, they are unable to make sales, thereby lowering their management's potential compensation package.

This pregnancy discrimination lawsuit is similar to a case filed against Novartis AG. That suit was also a class action alleging that the Swiss drug maker systematically discriminated against women through pay and promotion policies. A jury ordered Novartis to pay $250 million in punitive damages for its discriminatory practices; a settlement was later reached with the class plaintiffs and attorneys.

Source: Thomson Reuters New & Insight, "Merck sales rep claims sexual bias, seeks over $100 mln," May 9, 2013

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