- A former Johnson & Johnson executive filed a lawsuit Dec. 17 alleging her supervisors harassed and discriminated against her because of her gender and sexual orientation in violation of New Jersey state law. After the plaintiff complained to CEO Alex Gorsky about the alleged treatment, Johnson & Johnson reduced her pay, removed her from "key and high-profile management committees" and she was ultimately terminated in 2020, the lawsuit claimed (Bilotti v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 008645-20 (New Jersey Superior Court Dec. 17, 2020)).
- The plaintiff, who worked at Johnson & Johnson for 25 years, moved up in ranks through 17 roles in supply chain, commercial, and research and development departments, eventually overseeing a product line worth $42 billion, according to the lawsuit. In 2017, the plaintiff began reporting to the newly named chief financial officer for Janssen R&D, owned by Johnson & Johnson, the lawsuit stated. The executive allegedly demeaned the plaintiff by telling her to "shut up" and using explicit language toward her. After she complained, he cut the plaintiff's budget by more than 20% over two years, compared to the budgets of male peers of which he reduced by "only 2 to 3% per year," according to the lawsuit. The complaint also claimed another executive, the global head of R&D, "may have been grooming Plaintiff for a sexual relationship" which promptly ended once he was given access to her Facebook page and learned that she was gay. Once he became aware that the plaintiff was gay, he began to interact with her in "an abrupt and demeaning manner," the lawsuit claimed.
- Johnson & Johnson and HR "failed to take remedial action to protect the plaintiff" after the plaintiff made complaints between 2017 and 2019, the lawsuit stated. She claimed that after meeting with Gorsky on more than one occasion to make him aware of the alleged harassment, her supervisors produced a "retaliatory financial audit," according to the lawsuit. She is seeking back and future lost wages and compensation in addition to "compensatory damages for pain, suffering, stress, humiliation and mental anguish," the lawsuit stated.
Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In addition to compliance with these laws, many companies also provide in-house, company-wide guidelines.
Johnson & Johnson "does not tolerate harassment, bullying or conduct that could lead or contribute to harassment of employees by managers, supervisors or co-workers," according to guidelines updated in June. The company encourages employees to report instances of bullying or harassment and maintains "clear procedures" for investigation and resolving issues, according to the document. All Johnson & Johnson employees are required to complete training courses that address policies prohibiting harassment, such as Code of Business Conduct training every two years after initial onboarding training, according to the company. "This training specifically includes educating individuals on different types of harassment and ways to support a harassment- and bullying-free workplace," according to the guidelines.
The plaintiff allegedly endured "sexism and verbal abuse" from a supervisor at Johnson & Johnson that was "so public and severe" that several of her peers filed complaints with the HR department on her behalf," her attorneys said in a statement. The former Johnson & Johnson executive allegedly asked HR for updates about the investigation into the complaints, but did not receive a response; and a year later she was informed the investigation was closed and "threatened with termination," according to the statement.
HR professionals should create a vigorous reporting procedure for discrimination and harassment claims, in addition to training managers on how to properly respond to complaints, experts in employment law recommend. An employer has the obligation to stop and prevent the misconduct, if it is discovered. Employers are "automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination," according to the EEOC. Prevention is the best way to eliminate harassment, the agency advised.