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Court rejects women’s discrimination claims against Eli Lilly

January 14, 2016

Calling the conduct of an Eli Lilly supervisor “inexcusable and offensive,” a federal court nonetheless found the discrimination claims made by three former female employees did not have merit.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia Wednesday affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants in Margaret P. Tourtellotte, et al. v. Eli Lilly and Company; Timothy Rowland, 15-1090. The panel found the women did not present substantial evidence to establish a prima facie case in support of their retaliation and discrimination claims.  

Tourtellotte, Karla Krieger and Ana Reyes, all former sales representatives for Eli Lilly, filed a lawsuit alleging their supervisor, Rowland, engaged in unlawful conduct. Two of the women, Tourtellotte and Reyes, took medical leaves to treat depression and anxiety they claimed were caused by the stress of working under Rowland. All three were terminated in 2008.

The three women allege Rowland made inappropriate comments, such as remarking about “all the female Barbie dolls that are now in the pharmaceutical industry.” He also mocked Reyes’s Hispanic accent and during a role-playing exercise, said “black people do not speak fast.”

Tourtellotte, who had returned from maternity leave, claimed at one point, Rowland gestured to her and another breastfeeding employee and stated he and his wife “decided that one of (them) always needs to be suckling on the breast of corporate America.”

During a meeting with her male colleague, Krieger claimed Rowland discussed women’s breast sizes. Also Reyes alleged Rowland excluded her from a meeting, saying it was just for guys  and told her twice he had helped a poor Hispanic woman find a more appropriate job.

The three asserted a variety of claims including sex discrimination, breach of contract, sex- and race-based hostile work environment, disability discrimination and retaliation for filing a complaint with human resources.

However, the 3rd Circuit found the women had failed to meet their burden in presenting evidence to support their claims.

Reyes’s retaliation claim was the only complaint to survive summary judgment and go to a jury trial. She challenged two of the district court’s evidentiary rulings but the appellate panel found the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding Reyes’s evidence and admitting Lilly’s.

“While we agree with the District Court that many of Rowland’s actions were ‘inexcusable and offensive,’ none of the alleged conduct rises to the level of unlawful discrimination,” Judge Franklin Van Antwerpen wrote for the court.   

 

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