Drug firms face class-action suits from sales reps

Pharmaceutical sales reps in recent weeks filed class-action claims against nine drug companies, seeking tens of millions in back pay. Lawsuits were filed in New York, California, New Jersey and Connecticut on behalf of the thousands of drug company salespeople across the country who are seeking overtime wages dating back two to six years, under federal and state statutes of limitations, according to reports in The LA Times and Associated Press. The companies affected are Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Hoffmann-La Roche, Bayer and Boehringer Ingelheim. Plaintiffs entered the suits earlier this month following Pfizer’s announcement that it will lay off a fifth of its US sales staff, according to the Times. One former Lilly rep interviewed by the AP said she quit after 18 years because her job encroached on weekends and vacations. She said Lilly told her when she started that she would be exempt from overtime. Another plaintiff, a 20-year Pfizer veteran, said her company’s overtime requirements were “unfair” and that her boss said she “needed to be engaged in business 24/7.” Under federal labor law, outside sales forces can be exempt from overtime pay. But the plaintiffs argue that they don’t qualify as sales reps because the doctors they visit aren’t actually buying anything from them, said Charles Joseph, an attorney for the workers who was interviewed by the Times. The agents are basically “marketing or promotional people. A large part of their job is to drive and drop off samples at the doctor’s office.” Drug company executives denied the arguments. The overtime cases have all been moved to federal courts. A second group of suits against drug companies—this one contending they have discriminated against older representatives—is being prepared by plaintiffs’ lawyers, notes the Times. In March a Novartis sales rep filed a $225 million class-action lawsuit against the firm, demanding pay for overtime work. The suit was filed in federal court on behalf of other US employees of Novartis.