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Thursday, June 11, 2009

More workers accuse Lilly of discrimination

By John Russell, June 9, 2009

More than 100 current and former workers of Eli Lilly and Co. have stepped forward to accuse the Indianapolis drug maker of racial discrimination, claiming it denied equal promotional opportunities, training and compensation, according to motion filed this morning in federal court in Indianapolis.

The employees, who are African-American, say they worked at numerous Lilly sites nationwide over the past three decades. Some continue to work at the company, the documents say.

The motion was filed by nine employees and the NAACP's head office, seeking class certification on behalf of "an estimated 2,000 members of the class." That number represents the number of black employees who have worked at Lilly since 2002.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say 108 of the workers have filed declarations about their experiences at Lilly.

A group of plaintiffs, along with lawyers and NAACP officials, planned to rally on the steps of the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Downtown Indianapolis at 11 a.m. today.

Lilly is Indianapolis' largest private employer, with about 12,000 workers at its headquarters and laboratories south of Downtown.

Lilly spokesman Mark E. Taylor today said the company has asked the court to deny class certification in this case.

"This case should not proceed as a class action because policies at Lilly ensure that respect and fair treatment of people are the cornerstones of Lilly’s corporate culture," he said in an e-mail. "We do not tolerate discrimination, which would be behavior contrary to our code of ethics. Lilly takes any allegations of unfair treatment very seriously. Lilly has investigated the allegations in the previously filed complaints and believes this lawsuit is without merit. We are prepared to vigorously defend the company."

The move is the latest twist to a lawsuit originally filed by Cassandra Welch, who said she was fired in 2004 in retaliation for complaining to the company's human resources department, accusing several managers of discrimination.

Welch had worked at Lilly for 12 years and said the company's minority-friendly policies were rarely applied. She said she found a black doll with a noose around its neck after raising complaints. Lilly has said it dismissed Welch for falsifying e-mails sent to a co-worker about non-Lilly business.

As of 2007, about 50 plaintiffs had joined the case. They included sales representatives, production workers, office workers and professionals from Lilly locations that include Indianapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, Memphis, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.

With today's filing, the number of employees stepping forward grows dramatically.

“As these individual and collective employment experiences make clear, for several decades Lilly has intentionally engaged in discriminatory practices with indifference to the federally protected rights of its African American employees,” said Ms. Ciccolo, General Counsel of the NAACP, in a statement. “This company’s longstanding policies and patterns of discrimination have injured and damaged these nine class representatives and all of the other African-Americans it employs. The legal actions we are taking in Indianapolis federal court are required to bring that injury and damage to a prompt and permanent end.”

The plaintiffs seek undisclosed damages, including declaratory and injunctive relief, back pay, front pay, and attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.

Watch for updates on this story.

Contact Star reporter John Russell at (317) 444-6283.

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