Novartis socked with $1.5M whistleblower verdict

A New Jersey state jury on Tuesday hit Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. with net damages totaling nearly $1.5 million regarding a former company executive’s claims that she was fired in retaliation for objecting to a proposed drug study.

The court rejected the pharmaceutical company’s stance that she was properly terminated for violating company policies.

Law360 reported that on the second day of deliberations, the eight jurors, for the most part, sided with Min Amy Guo in her whistleblower suit. The suit alleged that she was fired for raising concerns in 2012 about the potential study of cancer drug Afinitor by pharmaceutical distribution company McKesson Corp., including that the study appeared to be a kickback to McKesson to help sell the medicine.

According to Law360, in a 7-1 vote, the jury awarded $1,816,040 to Guo on her state Conscientious Employee Protection Act claim. The jurors then unanimously awarded $345,360.79 to Novartis on the company’s counterclaim for unjust enrichment.

The jury is expected to return on Wednesday to consider whether to award punitive damages to Guo.

A spokesperson for Novartis said; “In the Guo v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation lawsuit, we are pleased that the jury agreed with Novartis that Ms. Guo violated company policy. However, we are disappointed in and disagree with the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff. She was terminated for legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons, including her violation of company policy. We will vigorously pursue all post-verdict and appellate options in the case.”

The spokesperson said that Novartis is committed to the highest standards of ethical and compliant business conduct in all aspects of its business and has processes in place to ensure it does business in a responsible manner. “The company is committed to taking appropriate action, including terminating employment when necessary, should an employee refuse to comply with company policy.”

NJBIZ | February 26, 2019