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Lilly forks over $2.4M to settle federal agency’s age discrimination lawsuit

Eli Lilly is no stranger to age discrimination claims. But now, facing age bias allegations from employees and federal agencies alike, the Indianapolis-based drugmaker has settled at least one major lawsuit.

Eli Lilly will pay out $2.4 million as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued the company in September over claims it had changed its hiring preferences in 2017 to prioritize recruitment of more millennials to its workforce.

In turn, the EEOC contends Lilly intentionally under-hired older candidates for its sales representative positions, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Aside from offering up monetary relief, Lilly may not reject applicants within its primary care sales rep workforce based on age, which would violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the EEOC said in a consent decree made public this week. The arrangement is set to run for 30 months, during which time Lilly is also required to update its hiring practices and provide yearly equal employment opportunity training to all managers and human resources staffers involved in the hiring process.

Eli Lilly previously denied the EEOC’s allegations, telling Fierce Pharma last fall that it “does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, protected veteran status, disability or any other legally protected status.”

According to the consent decree, Lilly’s settlement agreement with the EEOC should not be taken as an admission of liability toward any of the agency’s allegations.

In an emailed statement, an Eli Lilly spokesperson noted the company is “working collaboratively with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to resolve this dispute.”

“While we continue to deny the allegations in the complaint, we look forward to resolving this matter and will continue to foster and promote a culture of diversity and respect at Lilly,” she added. 

Lilly has faced age bias claims on multiple fronts in recent years. Back in 2021, two job applicants proposed a class-action lawsuit claiming the company “systematically excluded” older candidates for sales posts in favor of younger workers. The plaintiffs argued that Lilly hired interns for sales rep positions until there were “no interns left.”

They further claimed the hiring practices were “no accident” but rather a priority of Lilly CEO David Ricks.

Meanwhile, in February of this year, Lilly was hit by another age discrimination suit, this time from Monica Richards, a senior sales rep at the drugmaker, who contended that the company had been attempting to correct an employment “skew” toward older workers for several years.

To carry out this plan, Richards claimed Lilly promoted millennial workers over older staffers and denied older workers promotions, including herself.

As in the EEOC case, Lilly has denied the allegations.

“We remain committed to fostering and promoting a culture of diversity and respect,” a spokesperson said in early 2023.

Elsewhere, Lilly isn’t the only drugmaker to enter the EEOC’s crosshairs. Last summer, the agency aimed its sights at Lilly’s diabetes rival Novo Nordisk, suing the company for allegedly denying a lateral transfer to a 62-year-old employee because of her age and instead hiring a less qualified 33-year-old.