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Judge refuses to dismiss class allegations in gender bias suit against Bayer


NEWARK, N.J.—A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals Inc., for which plaintiffs have said they will seek class action status.

In his ruling Friday in Victoria Barghout et al. vs. Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals et al., U.S. District Court Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh said the effort to dismiss the allegations was premature.

The complaint, which was filed last year by New York-based Sanford Wittels & Heisler L.L.P. on behalf of eight women, alleges that Wayne, N.J.-based Bayer and related units discriminated in pay, promotions, pregnancy and family responsibility issues in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as state law, among other charges.

Bayer HealthCare said in a statement that it has “continuously denied” charges of gender class discrimination. The company “is committed strongly to a policy of nondiscrimination and equal treatment for all employees.”

Judge Cavanaugh said in his decision that “plaintiffs' complaint as a whole sufficiently shows that female employers felt adverse effects at work especially in terms of opportunities for promotion and the privilege of maternity leave, despite the existence of facially neutral policies.” The ruling also said plaintiffs “further sufficiently plead their claims under the Equal Pay Act.”

While the plaintiffs have said they plan to seek class certification, the defendants have said that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. vs. Betty Dukes et al. precludes certification “because plaintiffs do not state a classwide claim for relief.”

However, the judge said in his ruling, “although the Dukes court reasoning is binding and relevant to analysis of whether an expansive class of employee-plaintiffs should be certified, its applicability is tenuous at this stage of litigation.”

Commenting on the ruling, attorney Katherine M. Kimpel, a partner in Sanford's Washington office, said the ruling is “consistent with what courts across the country” have done in response to “attempts to use the Wal-Mart decision too broadly and too aggressively.”