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Older Workers Sue Eli Lilly for Age Discrimination

Pharmaceutical company accused of setting hiring quotas to favor younger sales representatives

Eli Lilly sign

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

According to the suit filed in a federal court in Indianapolis, 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.

“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.

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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.

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 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. Lilly currently employs more than 15,000 people in North America.

According to AARP Research, the number of older adults who have encountered age discrimination in employment is rising rapidly. In a 2020 survey, 78 percent of older workers reported having seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace — a large increase from the 61 percent of respondents who said the same in a similar survey conducted just two years earlier.

Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers and the federal government for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology and lifestyle news.

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