Eli Lilly accused of discrimination against African-Americans in lawsuit (video)

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TOM MURPHY
AP Business Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Several current and former Eli Lilly and Co. employees have joined a 2006 federal lawsuit accusing the drugmaker of pay and promotional discrimination against African-Americans.

The complaint accuses Indianapolis-based Lilly of paying black employees at lower levels than their white counterparts and denying promotions to them in favor of less-qualified candidates.

It also accuses some Lilly employees of using racial slurs when discussing black employees.

Lilly said in an e-mailed statement it has investigated the lawsuit’s allegations, and the case has no merit. The drugmaker said company policies “ensure that respect and fair treatment of people are the cornerstones of Lilly’s corporate culture.”

The lawsuit, originally filed by former employee Cassandra Welch, now lists the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a lead plaintiff and nine other current and former employees who plan to represent about 2,000 people if the case receives class-action certification.

“This is a national problem, and it has to be resolved nationally,” said David Sanford, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana include declarations from 106 current and former employees around the country detailing discrimination.

Rowlett, Texas, resident John Boyd said in one that Lilly has consistently paid him less than “non-African American employees” in similar situations and has held him to a higher standard than white employees. Boyd is a neuroscience senior care sales representative.

He also said the drugmaker’s white managers chose white employees for training that positions them for promotions.

“If I wanted additional training, I had to request it, and it took me many years to receive the same opportunities that white employees were offered in just one or two years,” the declaration said.

Welch, a former employee, also accused Lilly of pay discrimination and said she frequently heard racist comments from white co-workers in her department, according to the complaint, which states that she once found a “dark colored doll with a noose around its neck” on her desk.

Last year, Lilly agreed to pay $64,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of withholding severance pay to force a longtime employee to withdraw a discrimination charge. That employee, Starr E. Johnson, is not named in the latest court complaint.

Johnson, a black woman, worked for Lilly for more than 23 years before she was fired in 2005, weeks after filing a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Statement from Eli Lilly and Company regarding the announcement by plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination:

“Respect and fair treatment of people are cornerstones of Lilly’s corporate culture. We do not tolerate discrimination, which would be behavior contrary to our code of ethics. Lilly takes any allegations of unfair treatment very seriously. We have investigated the allegations in the previously filed complaints and believe this lawsuit is without merit. Lilly has asked the Court to deny class certification and is prepared to vigorously defend itself in this case. Lilly remains committed to providing equal opportunity to all employees, as well as a diverse and safe work environment. Lilly is proud of its integrated diversity strategy and the recognition we have received for fostering a diverse work place. We strive for continuous improvement in all that we do – especially in how we support our employees.”

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