An employment discrimination case with potentially profound implications for the state of Indiana has taken a new twist. For the past 5 years, Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis’s largest employer (12,000 employees in the state and many more thousands elsewhere around the country) has been dogged by workplace discrimination allegations. On Tuesday, June 9th, the NAACP asked a presiding federal judge to grant class action status to more than one hundred current and past Lilly employees who claim they’ve been victims of racial discrimination.
Retaliation or Appropriate Termination?
The legal battle began in 2004, when a woman named Cassandra Welch complained to the company’s HR department about harassment. According to Ms. Welch’s account, the company did not respond appropriately. Ms. Welch subsequently found a black doll with a noose around its neck at work, and she was later fired in retaliation for complaining. The company has denied firing Welch for retaliation and has insisted that she was let go because she forged emails.
Shortly after Ms. Welch lost her job, workers like Joy Mason and Kelly French voiced similar complaints about harassment and race discrimination at Lilly. These women complained that they had been passed over for promotion by less qualified applicants and they had not received pay concomitant with the jobs they were doing.
How many more?
All told, more than 2,000 African Americans currently work at or have worked at Eli Lilly and Company. At least a hundred have joined in the potential class action suit. The drug manufacturer stands by its argument that the company does not tolerate and has not tolerated discrimination in any form at its workplaces and that it offers equal pay and promotion opportunities to all employees. Given the lawsuit’s current size and Lilly’s prominent community stature, the outcome of this case may have significant cultural and economic consequences for the city of Indianapolis.
If you believe that your company has perpetrated race based or national origin based discrimination, the law firm of Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP can provide guidance. Please review our site or call our team for a free consultation.