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Salespeople sue drug companies for whistleblower retaliation

A federal jury in Seattle recently awarded $5.8 million to a Tacoma-based pharmaceutical sales representative. She said her employer fired her to retaliate for her refusing to push a product’s off-label uses and for filing an ethics complaint with the company.

Also, in Arizona and Florida, two former employees of another drug company recently filed similar whistleblower lawsuits claiming retaliation after they refused to help market drugs for off-label uses.

Company fires sales rep for heeding black-box warning

The Tacoma salesperson alleges her former employer, Biogen, pressured her to sell a drug for use with patients whose bodies stop producing enough new blood cells. But the FDA had instead okayed the drug for patients with multiple sclerosis. The drug carried a black box warning, meaning it could cause very major and even deadly side effects.

She filed a formal ethics complaint with the company and then suffered months of retaliation until her firing, the alleges.

In addition to $1.69 million to punish the company, the jury awarded the salesperson the same amount in pain and suffering (“non-economic”) damages, plus $390,500 and $2.1 million for past economic losses, respectively.

Suits filed against a second company for similar reasons

A Phoenix-area sales representative formerly with Sun Pharmaceuticals filed a federal whistleblower retaliation lawsuit in July against the company after a supervisor insisted he sell drugs for uses not approved by the FDA, according to the lawsuit.

He claims the supervisor wanted him to pitch the products for such uses in “untraceable” ways, such as over the phone or in person, but not in writing. After raising concerns about the sales and the pressure to make them, the company fired him in what he says was retaliation.

In November, another former representative for Sun Pharma filed a similar lawsuit.

The Tampa, Florida, former national account director claims the president of sales insulted her appearance, denied her requests for promotion, reduced her bonuses and fired her in July, around the time of the filing of Phoenix suit.