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Novo Nordisk sued by US salesforce for $70m

Case revolves around Danish pharma firm’s classification of sales reps

A US law firm has filed a legal challenge against Novo Nordisk on behalf of current and former sales representatives, claiming millions of dollars in unpaid overtime.

Sanford Wittels & Heisler claims that Denmark-based Novo Nordisk defied state and federal laws by withholding overtime wages from the sales reps, and is demanding $70m to settle the matter. The case has been filed in the State of New York.

The case appears to hinge on the classification of sales reps by the company. The suit alleges that Novo Nordisk misclassified sales employees as outside representatives, rendering them exempt from state and federal overtime laws.

The US Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempts companies from minimum wage and overtime requirements for outside sales representatives and certain other functions such as executive, administrative and professional employees, but for other staff provides a mandatory 'time-and-a-half' payment for time worked over 40 hours a week.

"Novo Nordisk has systematically trampled on its dedicated employees' rights to be paid for their overtime work," said SW&H attorney Steven Wittels.

"It misclassifies its sales representatives as salaried employees exempt from the benefits of federal and state overtime laws, when in fact, they are not exempt at all," he added.

Last year, Novo Nordisk was sued by sales representatives in Sacramento, California, in a near-identical case.

There has been a wave of lawsuits from sales reps and other white collar workers seeking overtime pay in the US in the last five years, not just in pharmaceuticals but also many other industrial sectors.

Early cases brought by sales representatives against Bayer, Roche and Wyeth found in favour of the drugmakers, but more recently the verdicts have been mixed.

Last August for example Merck & Co lost a case which argued that the FLSA exemption did not apply to reps employed by Schering-Plough, which Merck acquired in 2009. Another victory for the reps occurred in a case involving Boehringer Ingelheim a month earlier.

6th March 2012

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