Ex-AstraZeneca Employee Wins $2.4 Million in Whistleblower Suit

June 23, 2021, 6:13 PM

A former AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, LP employee won $2.4 million in damages after being fired for raising the alarm that an executive was marketing drugs for unapproved uses.

AstraZeneca violated Oregon’s whistleblower statute, which protects employees from facing retaliation for good-faith reporting of wrongdoing, the federal court jury found. It awarded plaintiff Suzanne Ivie $510,423 in back pay and $1,872,000 for emotional distress, suffering, and reputational harm.

The jury did not find Ivie’s claims of age and employment discrimination or retaliation supported by evidence, according to its verdict rendered Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon at Portland.

Ivie repeatedly tried to warn her bosses that an executive was planning to market anti-inflammatory drugs—meant to prevent severe symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease from worsening—as a preventative that could treat mild to moderate issues, according to her 2019 complaint. Such misrepresentation, also know as off-label marketing, is prohibited by federal law.

In response to her complaints, the company retaliated by denying raises and removing her from leadership, and eventually fired her, Ivie claimed.

“Suzanne alerted AstraZeneca to bad behavior and, instead of fixing the problem, the company punished her,” her attorney, Anita Mazumdar Chambers, said in a press release. “Today, a jury of regular people told AstraZeneca that’s not acceptable in our society.”

AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment on the jury’s verdict. The drugmaker is based in Cambridge, UK. The pharmaceutical company is a unit of AstraZeneca PLC.

This isn’t the first time the company has faced scrutiny for misleading marketing. It settled a lawsuit for $520 million in 2010 for off-label drug marketing of the antipsychotic Seroquel. The agreement also required the company to operate under oversight from the Department of Health and Human Services for five years.

Anita Mazumdar Chambers and Robert Scott Oswald of the Employment Law Group represented the plaintiff. John C. Dodds, Melinda S. Riechert, and Ryan P. McCarthy of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius represented the defendant.

The case is Ivie v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, LP, D. Or., No. 3:19-cv-01657, 6/22/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Papscun in Washington at dpapscun@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Travis Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com

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