On June 22, a federal jury awarded AstraZeneca whistleblower Suzanne Ivie over $2.4 million in back pay and noneconomic damages as compensation for alleged whistleblower retaliation. Ivie alleged that she was retaliated against and then wrongfully terminated by AstraZeneca after she complained internally in December of 2018 that the company was using misleading marketing tactics to sell some of their drugs. While the jury did not find AstraZeneca liable under the False Claims Act for the alleged misuse of marketing tactics, it did find that AstraZeneca retaliated against Ivie under Oregon whistleblower law.
Ivie claimed in her lawsuit that she experienced multiple forms of retaliation after she made a “good faith report” that a superior was promoting “off-label marketing” for two of the medications that AstraZeneca produces. The medications, Bevespi and Daliresp, are used to treat pulmonary disease.
In the pharmaceutical world, “off-label use” refers to using pharmaceuticals for symptoms or conditions, in unapproved patient groups or in unapproved amounts. If a company promotes uses or dosages of one of their drugs that are not medically approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, they can be liable under the False Claims Act. Ivie claimed that her supervisor pushed AstraZeneca sales teams to promote unapproved uses of these two drugs to physicians. The jury did not find that AstraZeneca was liable under the False Claims Act for these claims.
After Ivie reported what she believed to be off-label promotion of the two drugs, she was removed from leadership positions and accused of not completing a required number of hours coaching the sales representatives whom she managed. She also claimed that she was pressured to work on weekends and had her bonuses cut. The jury awarded $1,872,000 in damages for emotional distress and harm to reputation. They also awarded $510,423 for lost wages and the cost of the trial.
One of Ivie’s lawyers, Anita Mazumdar Chambers, commented on the jury’s decision in an article for the Oregonian. “Suzanne alerted AstraZeneca to bad behavior and, instead of fixing the problem, the company punished her…Today, a jury of regular people told AstraZeneca that’s not acceptable in our society.”
While the jury did not find AstraZeneca liable for False Claims Act violations, the False Claims Act is extremely effective at supporting and protecting whistleblowers when they report fraud, especially in the medical field. Ivie chose to make her complaint within the company and then later sued the company under Oregon state whistleblower anti-retaliation law.