This week, AstraZeneca agreed to settle a sex-discrimination lawsuit by paying $250,000 to 124 women who worked at the company’s Philadelphia Business Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The US Department of Labor (DOL) brought the lawsuit in May 2010, alleging that AstraZeneca had discriminated against female sales specialists by paying them salaries that were an average of $1700 less than those of their male counterparts.
Under a contract with the US Department of Veterans Affairs that is worth more than $2 billion, AstraZeneca provides pharmaceutical products to hospitals and medical centers throughout the United States. In 2002, the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) conducted a scheduled compliance review of the business center and found that AstraZeneca had violated Executive Order 11246 by failing to ensure that employees were paid fairly without regard to sex, race, color, religion, or national origin.
“Forty-eight years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women are still fighting for fundamental fairness when it comes to how we are paid,” said Patricia A. Shiu, director of OFCCP and a member of President Obama’s National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, in a DOL press release. “I am glad AstraZeneca finally has agreed to pay its employees what they’ve earned. More importantly, we look forward to working with the company’s management to make sure this does not happen again to anyone who works for AstraZeneca.”
In a consent decree and order filed with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, AstraZeneca agreed to cooperate with OFCCP by conducting a statistical analysis of the base pay of 415 individuals employed full time as primary-care and specialty-care pharmaceutical sales specialists in Alabama, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. According to the agreement, the company will adjust salaries accordingly if the analysis finds that female employees are still underpaid.
AstraZeneca also agreed to develop and annually update its affirmative-action plan and keep all supporting documentation as required by law. If the company does not comply with the consent decree, the federal government may impose sanctions, including the cancellation of its current federal contract and debarment from acquiring future contracts.
Shortly before AstraZeneca settled the lawsuit, the class bringing a sex-discrimination suit against Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals grew to include female sales representatives and all women in Bayer’s Consumer Care unit. The lawsuit alleges that Bayer discriminates against female employees with regard to pay and opportunities for promotion. In addition, the plaintiffs allege that Bayer is hostile toward women, tolerates sexual harassment, and retaliates against women who lodge complaints about their treatment.
The AstraZeneca settlement is the third of its kind in the past 15 months. In July 2010, Novartis’s US unit agreed to pay $152.5 million to settle a sex-discrimination class action brought by 6200 female workers. In March 2010, Sanofi agreed to pay $15.4 million to settle a sex-discrimination lawsuit involving 4000 female sales reps in the US.
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