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Lilly must produce files from noose incident

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Eli Lilly & Co. must produce documents related to the handling of a noose being found in an area its employees frequent for discovery in a separate suit alleging discrimination in the company.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of Indiana's Southern District Tuesday granted the plaintiff's motion to compel discovery relating to a 2008 noose incident near Eli Lilly in the case Cassandra Welch, et al. v. Eli Lilly & Co., No. 1:06-cv-0641.

Cassandra Welch and three other employees filed two proposed class-action complaints in April 2006 against the drug maker alleging discrimination throughout the workforce regarding pay, discipline, promotions, and other areas, and that incidents of racial harassment and intimidation resulted in a hostile work environment. According to the complaint, Welch once found a dark-colored doll with a noose around its neck on her desk. The second complaint alleges Lilly discourages investigations that uncover evidence of race discrimination and covers up such incidents.

The documents at question in this case involve a February 2008 incident in which contract security officer Dawn Johnson saw a rope in a tree with a hangman's noose on the end of it near a parking garage associated with Lilly. Johnson reported the incident to supervisors and claimed she wasn't contacted by any Lilly employee until a month later, after Welch made her complaint to the FBI.

Lilly objected to the discovery request saying it was overbroad and burdensome, and wanted information that wasn't relevant to the subject matter of Welch's suits.

Magistrate Magnus-Stinson rejected Lilly's arguments that the information about the February 2008 incident was irrelevant. The critical issue is not whether any Lilly employee was involved in the incident but rather the company's response to the incident. Welch and others have alleged a hostile work environment and that Lilly has failed to respond to or covered up past incidents of a hostile nature and Lilly's response to this incident is relevant to that claim, wrote the magistrate.

Lilly also feared the information would be used to publicize and sensationalize the suit, citing two press releases issued regarding the incident. Counsel for the plaintiffs assured that any documents produced would be protected pursuant to terms of a protective order in place.

Magistrate Magnus-Stinson ordered Lilly to produce the requested documents by Jan. 30.

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