Ex-Abbott Labs Sales Manager Gets $4.25M for Age Bias

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By Patrick Dorrian

Oct. 27 — A former national sales manager with Abbott Laboratories in Puerto Rico was awarded $4.25 million for age discrimination, including being demoted without cause at age 50 ( Gonzalez Bermudez v. Abbott Labs. P.R. Inc. , D.P.R., No. 3:14-cv-01620, jury verdict 10/25/16 ).

A federal jury found for Luz Gonzalez Bermudez Oct. 25 on her claims under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Puerto Rico law. The verdict followed a seven-day trial, with the jury finding both Abbott Laboratories P.R. Inc. and Gonzalez’s former supervisor Kim Perez liable for age bias and job retaliation.

The company must pay Gonzalez $250,000 in back pay and $3 million in compensatory damages, and Perez must pay her $1 million in compensatory damages, the jury said.

Abbott plans to appeal, a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 27.

Complaint Claimed Lost Salary, Bonuses, Stock Options

According to Gonzalez’s August 2014 complaint, she started with Abbott as a medical representative in November 1984. After receiving only positive performance evaluations and several promotions, she was working as a Grade 18 national sales manager when the discrimination and retaliation started in October 2010.

She was told her job was being eliminated, and she was reassigned to a position as marketing manager, supposedly as the same Grade 18 level. However, the reassignment was only for two years, while Abbott assessed its need for the position. She was demoted further to a Grade 15 product manager position at the end of the two-year period.

In addition, the 10-years-younger Perez began harassing Gonzalez soon after becoming her supervisor, according to the complaint. Gonzalez complained to human resources and ultimately was forced to take medical leave due to the stress, she alleged. She again sought medical treatment in March 2013 following her demotion to Grade 15, the complaint asserted.

Abbott retaliated against her on both occasions, Gonzalez alleged. Specifically, Perez issued Gonzalez the first subpar performance rating of her Abbott career one month after Gonzalez returned from medical leave in June 2012, and Abbott in April 2013 warned her to return to work immediately or face termination during her subsequent medical treatment.

The discrimination and retaliation caused Gonzalez to miss out on additional salary, bonuses and stock options, according to the complaint.

Diversity Valued, Employer Says

The company said the evidence does not support the jury's conclusions.

“Abbott promotes and values a diverse and inclusive workforce, and has been recognized throughout the world as a best place to work. We firmly believe this case is without merit. The award cannot be supported by the evidence, and we look forward to appealing,” it said in a statement.

Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico presided at trial.

Gonzalez's attorney didn’t respond Oct. 27 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

Carlos M. Vergne Law Office and Gonzalez Munoz Law Offices represented Gonzalez. O’Neill & Borges LLC and Casellas, Alcover & Burgos PSC represented Abbott and Perez.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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