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    Novartis, Alcon face gender discrimination suit

    Fort Worth, TX—Two former Alcon employees have filed a $110 million lawsuit, including a class action suit, against Alcon and its parent company, Novartis, claiming the companies discriminated against the employees based on their gender.

    The lawsuit claims that Alcon paid the plaintiffs less than their male counterparts, discriminated against them in assignments, and denied them promotions in favor of men who were similarly situated. One of the plaintiffs is also claiming she was retaliated against after she repeatedly complained about an environment that was discriminatory toward women. 

    “Alcon is aware that two former employees have filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination,” says Elizabeth Murphy, director of Global External Communications at Alcon. “Alcon disputes these allegations and will vigorously defend itself in litigation.”

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    Details of the case

    Elyse Dickerson worked for the company from March 2002 until January 2, 2015, when she was terminated from the company. She started as an associate product manager and eventually became Alcon’s first female global director for pharmaceuticals in 2010, according to the lawsuit.

    Dickerson is suing to be reinstated to her job; to enjoin what the lawsuit describes as the company’s discriminatory policies, practices, and procedures; and for damages of $10 million.  

    She claims Alcon senior management marginalized and discriminated against her because of her gender, including paying her less than her male peers and not giving her a fair performance rating.

    “Ms. Dickerson wanted to continue and rise the ranks at Alcon,” says Alexandra Harwin, an attorney with Sandford Heisler Kimpel, LLP, representing the plaintiffs in this case, speaking exclusively to Optometry Times. “She didn’t want to be forced to resign due to gender discrimination. She wanted to effect change in Novartis’s Alcon division.”

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    In August 2014, Dickerson filed a charge of discrimination—both individual and class-wide—with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After she filed, the lawsuit claims the Novartis Business Practices Office launched an investigation into Dickerson.

    “It’s a formal grievance, which is a prerequisite to filing a suit under federal law called Title VII,” says Harmin. “When someone files a charge, the company is informed and warned against taking retaliatory action against the employee who complained. Novartis did not comply and commenced a sham investigation.”

    In December 2014, Dickerson went on medical leave because she claims she experiencing stress and anxiety due to the discrimination. The medical leave was scheduled to last until February 1, 2015, but she was terminated from her position on January 2, 2015.

    Murphy says Dickerson was fired for what she describes as serious violations of company policy.

    “The company does not tolerate activities which are not in compliance with the company’s principles for ethical business conduct. When inappropriate activities are identified, we take appropriate action, including terminating employment when necessary,” she says.

    But Dickerson’s lawyer disputes those claims.

    “The reality is that there were no ethical violations,” says Harwin. “It’s convoluted. “There were no legitimate grounds for terminating Ms. Dickerson. The timing of this is very notable,” she says.

    According to the lawsuit, Dickerson was terminated two weeks before the majority of her Novartis stock grants, worth approximately $750,000, were scheduled to vest.

    Next: Dr. Orr's case 

    Colleen E. McCarthy
    Colleen McCarthy is a freelance writer based in the Cleveland area and a former editor of Optometry Times. She is a 2010 graduate of the ...

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