Company President Fired for Alleged Sexual Harassment, Embezzlement
WESTBORO, Mass. (AP) _ The chief executive of the pharmaceutical company Astra USA was fired after being accused of replacing older women with young beauties, pressuring female employees to have sex and embezzling $2 million.
Astra AB of Sweden, Astra USA’s parent, announced Wednesday that it had ousted Lars Bildman, head of U.S. operations, after investigators confirmed misconduct and found evidence of embezzlement. Astra also fired a second executive, and two others resigned.
The company is the creator of Prilosec, an ulcer medicine that is the world’s second-best selling drug.
``This is the end of an unfortunate and distasteful chapter in the history of Astra USA,″ said C.G. Johansson, an Astra AB vice president who headed the investigation. ``Our company has been appalled and disappointed with what we have discovered.″
But Astra board member Lars Ramqvist was quoted in the July-August edition of the Swedish monthly magazine Maanadens Affaerer as saying: ``Of course it’s not good with sex scandals, but in the U.S. this has helped us get out Astra’s name without having to pay expensive advertising fees.″
Bildman’s attorney, Roderick MacLeish, said his client is a victim of ``cowardly and disloyal actions by the Swedish parent company″ and ``scurrilous and untrue allegations brought by disgruntled former employees.″
Johansson said there was evidence that Bildman had embezzled about $2 million for personal expenses, including vacations and renovations to three houses.
The company’s investigating committee also found evidence of what it called ``inappropriate behavior″ by Bildman and other executives at company functions. Astra AB did not elaborate.
However, a federal lawsuit filed by six former employees last month alleged that Astra executives created ``an organized pattern of sexual harassment ... in order to satisfy their personal desires.″
The lawsuit also alleged that within a year after Bildman’s arrival at Astra, female staffers over 40, or those married with children, began to be replaced by ``stunningly attractive″ single young women.
According to the complaint, two senior vice presidents, Edward Aarons and George Roadman, allegedly rejected many applicants based on their photographs alone, with the dismissal: ``Can you imagine this one at the bar with us?″
Bildman also allegedly kept a picture of Adolf Hitler and a copy of ``Mein Kampf″ in his office, and ``exhibited certain personality quirks such as fascination with youth and Aryan beauty, physical culture, secrecy, paranoia and slavish regimentation.″
Roadman, vice president of marketing and sales for the company’s hospital division, was fired, and Aarons, director of institutional business, agreed to resign, the company said.
Astra USA’s board voted unanimously to fire Bildman on Tuesday, Johansson said. Anders Lonner, an executive in Sweden who Johansson said knew about improprieties but failed to report them, also has resigned.
Johansson said the first indication the company had of Bildman’s behavior was on April 19, when executives at headquarters in Stockholm received a letter from Business Week portraying an atmosphere of sexual harassment and hard partying at Astra USA.
Bildman was suspended April 28 after 16 employees complained of sexual harassment. Business Week published its article May 13.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also questioning Bildman and the company about six complaints, Astra attorney Francis Carling said. Altogether, 12 former employees have settled sexual harassment suits with Astra, Carling said.
Astra USA has 1,475 employees.