Discrimination suit by former GSK employee scheduled for trial

Jul. 10, 2013 @ 06:55 PM

A discrimination lawsuit brought by a former employee against GlaxoSmithKline LLC, a subsidiary of the British drug development company, is scheduled to go to jury trial in federal court next year.

George M. Adjabeng claimed in a lawsuit filed last year in Durham County Superior Court that he was discriminated against based on his race and national origin and faced retaliation for reporting it, among other allegations, while working as a scientist for the company in the Research Triangle Park.

The case was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, and is scheduled for trial Jan. 6. The company denied discrimination, retaliation and other allegations in a response filed in August.

Kevin Colgan, a spokesman for the company, said in an email that it is “normal procedure” for the court to set a trial date in civil actions, but that doesn’t mean a trial will be held. He said the company will likely seek a summary judgment and if granted, the case would end without a trial.

“We believe the suit is without merit and we intend a vigorous defense,” the company said in a statement.

According to Adjabeng’s complaint, he’s an African American of Ghanaian origin who started working for the company in 2004, and started working in a hepatitis C virus department in 2009.

He claims that a co-worker, then-principal scientist Richard Grimes, harassed him, making statements such as “Africans just cannot think,” and “people form Third World countries shouldn’t be allowed to get visas to developed nations.” The company admitted in a response that Adjabeng was re-hired in 2009 in an infectious disease group, but denied the harassment allegations.

Adjabeng’s claim alleges he made a “significant breakthrough” in 2010 and claims the manager was upset about being instructed to work on it along with the entire team. The company admitted that Adjabeng designed and synthesized new Hepatitis C virus inhibitors that were more “potent and bioavailable,” but denied other allegations in that section of the lawsuit.

Adjabeng also claimed he wrote to a department director about the manager, resulting in an internal investigation by the company and an incident report against him. He claims he was removed from work on his discovery and was reassigned, while the manager kept his office, lab space and team role. The company admitted that Adjabeng was reassigned, but denied other related allegations.

Adjabeng said in the suit that he filed a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He also claimed he felt he was being forced to resign. He went on to state in the lawsuit hat he was called in to a meeting in September 2011 for which he was not prepared, so he left, was suspended for leaving the meeting and later fired. He alleges he was terminated because of “contrived and unrealistic standards.”

After returning from suspension, he claimed that he received new deadlines and assignments that were impossible to meet. He alleges he made a “tremendous effort” but meeting the standard was impossible.

The company denied the allegations related to the assignments. It stated in the response that the company discharged him because, “despite repeated counseling and warning, he had failed to perform the responsibilities of his position in a sustained and satisfactory manner.”

An attempt to reach Adjabeng’s attorney for comment was unsuccessful.