A veteran Kansas drug rep encountered new managers as the result of a reorganization. She alleged that her district boss made many age-related comments to her and scrutinized her performance as he did not that of younger reps. She was soon fired. The employer asserted she had altered important forms, but she said it was age bias.
What happened. “Wilson” had been a drug representative for Pfizer since 1980 when, in 2005, the company reorganized its sales force and sales territories. Wilson’s new district manager often, without warning, accompanied her on field visits and once commented that he wanted young drug reps. He also said she had an “adult” learning style that required “a lot of repetition.”
A key part of a rep’s job was the electronic filing of so-called “starter” forms—records of sample Pfizer drug packages left with physicians and other healthcare providers. Pfizer testified that tampering with such forms is a federal crime as well as a violation of company policy. Wilson’s immediate supervisor noticed what she saw as inaccuracies in her starter forms and, with the district manager, requested an audit. The audit did not resolve the accuracy issue, so an HR rep and the supervisor met with Wilson. She denied wrongdoing, but her interviewers later testified that she had acknowledged changing dates on some forms to appear more productive.
She was fired at age 56, and she sued for age discrimination, pointing to a second long-time drug rep who was also terminated after age 50. A federal district court judge found too little evidence of bias, so he accepted Pfizer’s explanation for her firing and dismissed her case. Wilson appealed to the 10th Circuit, which covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.
What the court said. Wilson acknowledged having changed the dates on some of her forms but argued that the doctors themselves had misdated those forms when they signed them. Reps were not allowed to “bank” their forms, which could only be filed in numerical order daily. The audit did find that 273 of 644 Wilson starter forms had been filed out of numerical order. Appellate judges reviewed the record and testimony and agreed with the district judge that Pfizer’s reason for firing her appeared to be legitimate. So her case was again dismissed. Wagoner v. Pfizer, Inc., U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, No. 09-3066 (2010).
Point to remember: Given the age-related remarks from the district manager, that another 55-year old had also been fired, and that the audit results were inconclusive, we think judges in some other circuits might have sent Wilson’s case to a jury.