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Older Workers Sue Eli Lilly for Age Discrimination

EEOC files an additional suit saying pharmaceutical giant favored younger applicants

JDRN6E Indianapolis - Circa June 2017: Eli Lilly and Company World Headquarters. Lilly makes Medicines and Pharmaceuticals X
Alamy Stock Photo

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in September 2021, two midcareer workers alleged drugmaker Eli Lilly discriminated against older job applicants in favor of hiring early career professionals and millennials instead. That litigation, which is ongoing, could become a nationwide class action lawsuit, which would open eligibility to many older applicants who were rejected in recent years.

This month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed its own age discrimination lawsuit against Eli Lilly on similar grounds, asserting that company refused to hire older workers for positions as sales representatives from 2017 to 2021. The federal agency filed the lawsuit after attempts to reach a settlement with Eli Lilly through the conciliation process failed.

According to the first lawsuit, newly appointed CEO David Ricks told Eli Lilly staffers in a company-wide conference call in April 2017 that he wanted workers who are millennials to be 40 percent of the company’s overall sales force by 2020. In some cases, the millennial hiring quota was later raised to 100 percent if lower thresholds were not being met, the lawsuit alleges.

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“Eli Lilly believes younger applicants are better suited to be employed in a sales representative role,” the lawsuit says. “Because sales representative roles are primarily client-facing roles whereby sales representatives regularly interact with physicians who prescribe Eli Lilly products to their patients, Eli Lilly prefers that sales representatives to have a youthful appearance.”

The plaintiffs allege that the company’s bias denied them employment opportunities, specifically in the sales department of Lilly’s diabetes and primary care business units. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) bars employers from discriminating against people 40 and older, an age group that now includes the eldest members of the millennial generation, born between about 1981 and 1997.

The first plaintiff, Jerad Grimes of Florida, is now 49. He worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Lilly from 2008 until 2017, when he was laid off. According to the lawsuit, for the next three years, Grimes applied for dozens of sales positions in Eli Lilly’s offices across the nation. All of his applications were rejected.

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The other plaintiff, Georgia Emily Edmondson, lives in Georgia and is 55 years old. She applied to sales positions with Lilly’s diabetes and primary care business units in 2018 and 2020 but was rejected.

In a statement, a Lilly spokesperson denied the allegations and said the company does not discriminate.

“We are committed to fostering and promoting a culture of diversity and respect,” the company said.

Both plaintiffs in the September 2021 lawsuit are seeking back pay and damages for lost benefits and emotional distress, along with other damages. If the lawsuit is granted class action or collective action status, it’s possible that many older workers who were rejected could be eligible.

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The lawsuit the EEOC filed in September 2022 makes similar allegations that Eli Lilly refused to hire older applicants for sales representative positions from April 2017 to April 2021. The agency is seeking back pay and other damages for applicants who faced age discrimination during that period. The suit also wants Eli Lilly’s managers and supervisors to undergo training about federal equal employment opportunity laws.

“According to a recent study by the AARP, nearly 80 percent of older workers say they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace,” said EEOC’s Tampa Field Office Director Evangeline Hawthorne. “The EEOC is committed to protecting the rights of job applicants to ensure hiring decisions are based on abilities, not age.”

Editor’s Note: This article originally was published on September 9, 2021. It has been updated with information about the lawsuit the EEOC filed against Eli Lilly in September 2022.