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Lay Us Off, Will You? Hundreds Axed at Pfizer Sign Up for Overtime Lawsuit

Hundreds of Pfizer (PFE)'s pharmaceutical sales reps signed on to a class action lawsuit demanding overtime pay in part because they were laid off following the company's acquisition of Wyeth. Plaintiffs in the suit asked a New York federal judge last week to certify the suit as a class action in three states: New York, California and Illinois.

The case is significant because Pfizer is the biggest drug company in the U.S. and thus the litigation affects more reps than any other.

The suit has been trundling along quietly since it was filed in 2006 by lead plaintiff Anthony Coultrip, who worked for Pfizer in Missouri between 2003 and 2005. In 2008, a judge denied Pfizer's motion to dismiss the case. Then in March of this year, the Supreme Court refused to hear a different case leaving in place rulings that required drug companies to pay overtime to sales reps who work more than 40 hours a week, except in a small number of jurisdictions. That ruling may pave the way for the Pfizer plaintiffs. In the first few months of this year, hundreds of reps signed on to the case, the court docket shows.

The difficulty for Pfizer is that its merger with Wyeth in 2009 led to 20,000 layoffs and Pfizer CEO Ian Read is planning more job cuts. Pfizer has the largest workforce -- 110,000 -- of any drug company, and 7-8,000 of those employees are sales reps, according to the motion to consolidate the claims into the three state jurisdictions. Those former Pfizer employees are now not shy about signing on for a potential back-pay award. The layoffs have thus made the case larger than it might have been back in 2006 when it was first filed (and when Pfizer employed more reps).

Each rep who signs on becomes known to management, as their names are publicly available on the federal court docket. (You can download the list of reps suing Pfizer here, current as of June 9, 2011.) Although the law bans retaliation against any employee who sues for overtime pay, there is a difference between the law and the real world, which is why it's easier for ex-reps to sign on than current ones.

Some Pfizer reps believe they don't deserve overtime, as the job just doesn't require that many hours. On CafePharma, the anonymous bulletin board for drug industry gossip, one Pfizer employee said:

You dumb freaking idiots! This is just a ploy BY lawyers FOR lawyers to make money. None of you idiots ever worked overtime and you know it. You never punched a time clock. You knew from the beginning what the job entailed. STFU!
Others, however, are out for blood:
Many of us worked in the field, as required by management, from 8-5 and then went home to do required computer work. My managers always told us to never do expense reports, call reports or any other administrative work in our office. This work was to be done after field hours (8am to 5pm) Many times we worked nights doing programs and weekends with no pay.
Here's the updated OT litigation scorecard:
  • Companies that will definitely have to pay overtime backpay: Novartis
    Merck (Schering-Plough)
    Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Pending cases that will likely follow the Supreme Court's lead and require back pay if fully appealed: Pfizer (case originating in New York)
    Pfizer (King), (case originating in Tennessee)
    Pfizer (Alpharma) (case originating in New Jersey)
    Bristol-Myers Squibb (case originating in New York)
    Abbott Labs (case originating in Illinois)
    AstraZeneca (case originating in Delaware)
    Takeda (case originating in Illinois)
  • Existing settlements favoring OT for reps: HealthFirst
    Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
  • Companies that do NOT have to pay overtime because their cases are covered by the 9th Circuit case: GlaxoSmithKline
    Johnson & Johnson's Ortho McNeil unit