Daiichi Sankyo’s US arm is facing a $100 million class action lawsuit after six current and former female sales representatives are accusing the drugmaker of gender discrimination.

The suit alleges that female employees are treated differently to their male counterparts, with less pay, slower promotion prospects, and discrimination against those who are pregnant or who have young children. The lawsuit states the claimants are attempting to end the discrimination culture for female sales reps at the company.

Sanford Heisler, the law firm handling the case, has demanded a jury trial, claiming the company’s actions fall under prohibited employment practices and violate several employment Acts. “Daiichi Sankyo reaps multibillion dollar profits by relying upon a predominantly female sales force. Daiichi treats them largely as props in a sales and marketing strategy. Like dinners, sports outings, and speaking fees, female sales reps are considered one of the many variations on the inducements that the pharmaceutical company dangles to sway doctors to its brand. Daiichi asks its female sales reps to wine and dine male doctors; offer friendships and gifts to foster ‘quid pro quo’ relationships; and devote unbounded attention to obtain their allegiance to Daiichi’s drugs.”

The suit alleges that nearly all managerial positions in the USA are held by men who are controlling in their decisions over female salaries and promotions, with pregnant women and those with young children treated unfairly. The complaint alleges that through the male dominated leadership structure, Daiichi Sankyo has approved and implemented policies, practices and decisions that have systematically discriminated against female employees.

“Female sales employees of childbearing age have been cautioned against committing ‘career suicide’ if they decide to become pregnant, take maternity leave, or seek part-time work schedules at Daiichi. Women who have been pregnant while working at Daiichi Sankyo have been faced with situations where they were called ‘baby makers’, forced to attend work meetings in smoke-filled bars while pregnant, subjected to suspect compensation ‘offsets’ after returning from maternity leave, discouraged from breastfeeding, and ‘managed out’ or demoted for complaining about gender discrimination or for becoming pregnant,” the complaint states.

The claimants are seeking damages totalling more than $100 million for all the women in the class action, adjustment of wages and benefits and awards of back pay, lost benefits and preferential rights to jobs. The suit also seeks an injunction against future discrimination and implementation of policies to provide women with equal employment opportunities.

Daiichi Sankyo said in a statement that it follows all laws regarding equal opportunity and non-discrimination and will be reviewing the lawsuit.   

Sanford Heisler successfully represented female Novartis staff in a 2010 discrimination case, where the company agreed to pay a total of $175 million to eligible women after a jury levied a $253 million verdict against it.

Meanwhile, Daiichi Sankyo has also announced 25 employees from its Parsippany, USA, headquarters, 50 field staff across its regional US offices and a further 225 open positions across the country are set to be cut after decisions to reduce the US commercial workforce to prepare for “anticipated, near-term business challenges”.