Sex Discrimination Verdict Based on Anonymous Online Gossip Upheld

Last Updated Jul 15, 2011 11:57 AM EDT

It is not surprising that Pamlab, a maker of "medical foods," was found liable by a federal appeals court in a sexual discrimination case where the president of the company told a female sales rep that "women were a detriment to the company." It is surprising, perhaps, that part of the case turned on drug company employees' anonymous postings on the industry gossip site CafePharma. This is not the first time that the "wit" and "wisdom" of CafePharma trolls have come back to haunt companies in the form of costly legal rulings.

In the case, Pamlab sales rep Carleen Black was hired as a Las Vegas sales rep for products such as Foltx, a vitamin deficiency therapy that claims to prevent circulatory problems. The meat of Black's claim -- which the jury accepted at trial -- is that she was required to meet a sales quota before becoming eligible for her bonuses, whereas male sales reps had no quota.

That's a straightforward, illegal act of discrimination by Louisiana-based Pamlab, which plaintiffs' court documents alleged was an "old school" Southern company dominated by white male Baptists. Black won a $3.45 million verdict. According to the appeals ruling and an accompanying dissent, Black suffered a barrage of attacks based on her breasts:

  • Stephen Camp, Pamlab's vp/sales, said the quota "shouldn't matter to you, [because] you're not the breadwinner anyway";
  • Pamlab president Samuel Camp, [Stephen Camp's father] asked Black if she planned to have more children and when she said "no" he responded, "Well, good, because usually females get hired on, get married, and/or get pregnant and they leave us";
  • At that same training session, Samuel Camp said that ... Black "was taking a position from a male";
  • Tracy Johnson, Pamlab's director of sales for the Western United States, said to Black in front of other Pamlab employees, "I don't care what you're selling. I'll buy it, because I can't keep my eyes off your boobs";
  • Jody Redding, a district manager for Pamlab, was heard to say about Black, "love the rack," "[p]robably they're bought and paid for," and "[t]hey're not real";
  • During a company retreat, Redding asked Black in front of other Pamlab employees if he could come back to Black's hotel room with her;
  • Stephen Camp was heard making comments about Black's "tits" and saying about Black, "Great body, but [I] wouldn't want to look at her while I'm having sex with her."
CafePharma strikes again!
A supplementary complaint filed by co-plaintiff Kace Whitaker alleged that:
Stephen Camp forcing Whitaker to watch a pornographic video (on a company computer, on company time) of a transgender male in the process of sexual reassignment surgery.
The pair also alleged that Pamlab employees rubbished the pair on CafePharma, writing:
Who in their right mind would ever have an affair with Carleen, jesus. Sick sick sick.
Carleen has a smoking body but she needs a total face lift. very hard to look at. similar to that new chick they hired in the north east. very very very hard to look at after meetings all day!
The verdict was reduced to $500,000 on post-trial motions; the appeals court reduced it further to $200,000. The "good" news for drug companies here is that Title VII of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act caps employee damages at $200,000, the appeals court ruled. The bad news is that this is the second federal court ruling upholding a case in which plaintiffs have cited anonymous gossip on CafePharma as legitimate evidence that juries may consider.