Former Merck & Co. employee sues for discriminatory firing

Pharmaceutical company Merck, which has a research and production facility in suburban Philadelphia, is facing a wrongful termination claim by a former worker over allegations that the woman was fired from her job for discriminatory reasons.

Norristown, Pa. resident Geraldine Greco is suing Merck & Co. Inc. for allegedly violating the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The plaintiff asserts in her civil action that she was fired in early June 2011, supposedly for violating the company’s sick leave policy, but Greco contends she was actually terminated for other reasons.

Greco, who is now 64 years old, began her employment with Merck in late 1999 as an administrative assistant at the company’s corporate office in Montgomery County.

In late 2010, Greco took approved family medical leave for three surgeries, returning to her position in early April of the following year, the lawsuit states.

“Plaintiff consistently had good to excellent performance reviews, no disciplinary actions, and perfect attendance record while at Merck,” the complaint says.

On May 31, 2011, Greco was called in to a meeting with supervisors during which she was accused of not reporting two wage overpayments during her federal sick leave in 2010, and taking 24 “incidents” of sick time in 2010.

The supposed incidents were mere hour-long periods of time during which Greco took off to see her doctors or if she was briefly sick, and which Greco coded as “sick time” and reported as such on her time card, the lawsuit states.

Nothing in Merck’s policies described the term “sick incident” or that such an incident meant a full sick day, according to the complaint.

In 2010 and 2011, Greco regularly called human resources to inquire as to her available sick time, although she was never told her job was in jeopardy based on her sick leave usage.

On May 31, 2011, however, Greco was immediately suspended without pay indefinitely pending an investigation into her activities, the complaint reads.

The plaintiff contends that the suspension was unwarranted because Merck had no applicable sick policy to apply to Greco’s situation, and Greco had agreed to payroll setoffs to pay back the overpayments that Merck had admitted were its own mistakes, the lawsuit states.

Nevertheless, Greco received a letter from her employer on June 3, 2011, saying the woman’s sick leave usage violated company policy.

She subsequently received notice that her employment would be terminated effective a week later.

“Throughout the entire aforementioned period, plaintiff received no written or verbal warning or notice from Merck, or her superiors, that she had violated any company policy, or that such action or conduct regarding sick time would jeopardize her position or lead to termination,” the lawsuit states. “Merck had specifically advised plaintiff to the contrary.”

After Greco filed a union grievance, Merck forced immediate retirement upon Greco, the suit states, but before the woman could consider retirement, the company re-issued the same letter terminating her employment as of June 8, 2011.

The complaint says that Greco was targeted for termination beginning in July 2010, when prospective retirement-age employees were invited to an informational retirement session given by Merck’s union president.

Greco attended the meeting but declined the “offer” to retire, the suit states, at which point the company allegedly began to scrutinize Greco’s time records.

Greco claims that Merck terminated two other women over 40 years of age for violating absenteeism policies, but later reinstated the women to their positions.

As for Greco, within a few short weeks of her firing, she was replaced by a new female employee who was estimated to be about 35 years old, the complaint states.

Greco seeks retroactive back pay, front pay, pre-judgment interest, liquidated damages, injunctive relief, attorney’s fees, costs and other court relief.

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 27 at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia by attorney J. Stephen Woodside.

The federal case number is 2:12-cv-07221-NS. 

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