Haven’t we heard this story before? Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals faces a class action suit alleging that it discriminates against its female employees. In late May, the class bringing the suit expanded to include female sales representatives and all women in the company’s Consumer Care unit. The employees’ complaint alleges that Bayer is hostile toward women, pays them less than it pays men, and retaliates against women who object to these conditions.
One of the plaintiffs, Natalie Celske, received several awards for her performance as a sales representative, according to the complaint. She became a district trainer and expressed interest in being promoted. Celske’s manager, however, removed her from her role as a trainer and replaced her with Celske’s male colleague James Webb, even though his performance had not been as good as hers. When Celske asked her manager why he had removed her from her position as trainer, he allegedly replied that the job was “more into James’s career path, not yours.”
Another employee, Vera Santangelo, alleged that a male senior employee sexually harassed her repeatedly. On several occasions, he grabbed her and made comments about her body. Distraught, Ms. Santangelo reported the harassment to the company hotline and to an ombudsman, but the senior employee’s behavior continued and a manager dismissed or diminished her complaints.
In an October 2010 internal newsletter, the company suggested that men are better suited for management positions because “the fairer sex” is prone to “mood swings,” “indecision,” and “backstabbing.” One of the company’s vice-presidents allegedly announced that he was “never hiring another woman over 40 again. They’re all crazy!” When women have complained about these attitudes, the company’s human resources department often responded with comments such as, “this is just the way it is, deal with it,” according to the complaint.
Bayer’s employees’ allegations deserve a full and fair airing. Coming in the wake of similar, and successful, suits against Novartis and Sanofi, the class action against Bayer indicates that the pharmaceutical industry as a whole should evaluate its policies toward women. Women have demonstrated their dedication and talent time and again, and research has shown the advantages that women bring to any company. It’s well past time for us to shed whatever remaining vestiges of sexism we may have.