Drug Giant Fired Top Performer After She Complained About Off-Label Marketing Efforts, Age Bias
PORTLAND, Ore. (June 22, 2021) — A federal jury today awarded $2.4 million in damages to a former AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals sales manager who was fired after raising concerns about the drug giant’s marketing tactics and alleged discriminatory actions.
The jury found AstraZeneca liable to Suzanne Ivie for violating Oregon’s whistleblower statute, which forbids retaliation against employees for their good-faith reports of wrongdoing. Ms. Ivie had repeatedly warned AstraZeneca that an executive was planning to market its drugs to doctors for unapproved uses.
Ms. Ivie is represented by The Employment Law Group® law firm. Before her termination she worked at AstraZeneca for 19 years, overseeing the work of sales teams in Utah, Idaho, and Oregon — and winning company-wide recognition for her strong performance in the drug maker’s respiratory products division.
In 2018 her division got a new boss, Stephanie DiNunzio, who singled out Ms. Ivie for her age rather than her achievements, according to testimony in the case. Ms. DiNunzio ridiculed Ms. Ivie in meetings as “Benatar,” for instance, referring to Pat Benatar, a rock singer whose heyday was in the early 1980s and now is almost 70, jurors heard. Ms. Ivie was about 50 at the time.
Ms. DiNunzio started pushing sales teams to promote AstraZeneca medications to doctors for uses beyond those sanctioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Ms. Ivie testified. Federal law prohibits such tactics, known as off-label marketing. In addition to endangering patients, off-label marketing previously had put AstraZeneca in legal jeopardy. As veterans such as Ms. Ivie knew, the company operated for five years under oversight from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services following a $520 million payment in 2010 to settle accusations of an off-label scheme.
Ms. Ivie resisted the pressure to break rules. Instead, she reported her concerns about off-label marketing and age discrimination — plus her fear of retaliation — through AstraZeneca’s appointed channels. Over the following months, AstraZeneca stripped her of leadership positions, denied her a raise and bonus, disciplined her for purportedly unrelated reasons, and ultimately fired her.
Jurors heard evidence that AstraZeneca’s legal and human-resources executives failed to step in — and even participated in the discipline — despite laws against punishing employees who report what they reasonably believe to be illegal behavior.
Ms. Ivie filed a complaint in October 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, claiming that AstraZeneca had engaged in retaliation and discrimination under a range of federal and state statutes. In today’s verdict, a six-person jury in Portland found AstraZeneca liable under Oregon law, awarding Ms. Ivie $510,423 in back pay and $1.872 million in compensatory damages, reflecting the harm to her quality of life.
“Suzanne alerted AstraZeneca to bad behavior and, instead of fixing the problem, the company punished her,” said Anita Mazumdar Chambers, a principal of The Employment Law Group (TELG). “Today, a jury of regular people told AstraZeneca that’s not acceptable in our society. This verdict is a comfort for Suzanne, of course, but she’d prefer never to have lost a job in which she excelled. AstraZeneca derailed her career and forced her into a courtroom to defend her honor. They owed her better — and we’re grateful to the jury for telling them so.”
Ms. Chambers represented Ms. Ivie at trial along with R. Scott Oswald, managing principal at TELG; both are based in Washington, D.C.
Ivie v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon
Original complaint filed on October 16, 2019
Amended complaint filed on June 9, 2020 (available here)
Case tried before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo, June 14-22, 2021
About The Employment Law Group
The Employment Law Group® law firm represents whistleblowers and other employees who stand up to wrongdoing in the workplace. Based in Washington, D.C., the firm takes cases nationwide.