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NAACP & Nine Class Reps File Motion for Class Certification Against Eli Lilly in Pervasive Discrimination Case

More than 100 Personal Declarations from Employees Nationwide Support Filing

INDIANAPOLIS, June 9 /PRNewswire/ -- The NAACP and nine class representatives today filed a motion for class certification in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, on behalf of a nationwide group of current and former employees of Eli Lilly Company. At the same time, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint alleging that the pharmaceutical giant discriminates against its African-American employees in pay, promotion and related promotional opportunities and that Lilly's discriminatory policies and practices deny these African Americans an equal opportunity to advance in their careers.

Accompanying the class certification motion and amended complaint were certified declarations by more than 100 members of the class throughout the United States regarding their adverse employment experiences at the company.

The legal actions were announced at 11 a.m. Tuesday on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse in Indianapolis by Angela Ciccolo, National General Counsel of the NAACP; plaintiffs' spokesperson Cassandra Welch; and the plaintiffs' attorney and new Co-lead Counsel David Sanford, of Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP.

Sanford Wittels & Heisler, a national civil rights firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York City and San Francisco, and the Morelli Ratner firm, a New York City-based plaintiff's firm have joined with Rose & Rose, a civil rights firm in Washington, DC, as Co-lead Counsel in the matter. The plaintiff's local counsel in Indiana is Rob Dassow of Hovde, Dassow & Deets, LLC.

The NAACP, Cassandra Welch in her individual capacity, as well as Raynard Tyson, Sheryl A. Davis, Clara Walker, Delores Ryan, Allison Carter, Lawanda Rutledge, Joy Mason, Kelly French and Jackie Colbert are named as class representatives on behalf of themselves and the class of current and past employees of Eli Lilly who experienced pervasive and longstanding racial discrimination as Lilly employees. There are an estimated 2,000 members of the class.

"More than 100 African American employees have filed declarations outlining the toll of Eli Lilly's discrimination on them and their families. Lost earnings and benefits coupled with the humiliation and distress of years of not being recognized for their merit and being held back because of the color of their skin," said Mr. Benjamin Jealous, President of the NAACP. "Companies like Eli Lilly who practice the anachronistic policies of racial discrimination harm not only the victims, but the competitiveness of U.S. business which must conduct business in an increasingly diverse marketplace."

The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, back pay, front pay, and attorneys' fees, costs and expenses to redress Lilly's pervasive and discriminatory employment practices.

All of the plaintiffs worked at Lilly locations in the U.S. over the past three decades and many continue to work there today: Mr. Tyson resided in North Carolina and was employed by Lilly from 1999 through 2004; Ms. Davis has been employed as a sales representative by Lilly in Memphis, TN, since March 2000; Ms. Walker resides in Indianapolis and has been employed at Lilly since 1988; Ms. Ryan resides in Indianapolis and has been employed at Lilly since 1977; Ms. Carter resides in Indianapolis and has been employed at Lilly since 2000; Ms. Rutledge resides in Olympia Fields, IL, and has been employed at Lilly since 2003; Ms. Mason resides in Indianapolis and has been employed at Lilly since 1998 and Kelly French resides in Indianapolis and was employed at Lilly from 1999 through 2008.

"Lilly discriminates against its African-American employees by advancing the company's white employees more quickly, and by denying African-American employees equal job assignments, promotional opportunities, training, compensation and other benefits of employment," said Mr. Sanford, Co-Lead Class Counsel. "These actions are part of Lilly's continuing pattern and practice of treating African-American employees differently from white employees. Such callous and unlawful behavior gives a new and warped meaning to the term 'lily white.' It cannot be allowed to continue."

Ms. Welch resided in Indianapolis during her employment by Lilly from 1992 until 2004. She is a long-time member of the NAACP, which is committed to the improvement of the social and economic status of minority groups, the elimination of racial prejudice and discrimination, and the attainment of civil rights and equal opportunities for its members and others. The majority of the members of the NAACP are African American.

"I have been subjected to blatant and persistent pay discrimination throughout my tenure at Lilly," said Ms. Welch. "I had to endure years of racist comments and threats -- including having a dark-colored doll with a noose around its neck left on my desk -- just to remain employed. My complaints to supervisors were never properly investigated, and I was ultimately let go by the company based on an untrue allegation by a co-worker."

Similar employment horror stories of the nine class representatives are described in the filing and in the more than 100 declarations.

"As these individual and collective employment experiences make clear, for several decades Lilly has intentionally engaged in discriminatory practices with indifference to the federally protected rights of its African American employees," said Ms. Ciccolo, General Counsel of the NAACP. "This company's longstanding policies and patterns of discrimination have injured and damaged these nine class representatives and all of the other African-Americans it employs. The legal actions we are taking in Indianapolis federal court are required to bring that injury and damage to a prompt and permanent end."

Sanford Wittels & Heisler is a law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey, and San Francisco that specializes in employment discrimination, wage and hour, consumer and complex corporate class action litigation and has represented thousands of individuals in some of the major class action cases in the United States. The firm also represents individual clients in employment, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower, public accommodations, commercial, medical malpractice, and personal injury matters.

SOURCE Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP
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