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Dismissed Workers File Suit Against Drug Company

May 8, 1985

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A federal lawsuit which attorneys say covers more than 600 former and demoted Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. workers alleges the company discriminated against employees over 40 when it laid off a tenth of its workforce earlier this year.

Filed on behalf of three men and other unnamed employees in similar circumstances on Tuesday, the U.S. District Court lawsuit claims the Nutley- based pharmaceutical company engaged in a ″pattern and practice of systematic and concerted discrimination.″

The plaintiffs are seeking a judgment that Hoffmann-LaRoche violated the Age Discrimination Act of 1967.

They also want back pay, lost fringe benefits, pay for compensation and benefits to which they would be entitled until age 70, reinstatement to their former jobs and unspecified punitive and compensatory damages for emotional distress and loss of dignity and earnings.

The plaintiffs, laid off Feb. 4, are Richard Sperling, 50, of Totowa, a 16- year company veteran who was a boiler room supervisor; Frederick Hemsley, 54, of North Arlington, a 27-year company veteran who was a senior production supervisor; and Joseph Zelauskas, 56, of Cedar Grove, a 35-year veteran who was a senior production supervisor.

The lawsuit said they consistently received satisfactory job ratings.

Hoffmann-LaRoche spokeswoman Carolyn Glynn said: ″We are confident that the selection of employees for termination was conducted fairly and equitably based on current and future needs of the organization.

″We are equally confident that all decision were made on a non- discriminator y basis and will vigorously defend any lawsuits that may be brought against us in this regard,″ she said.

The lawsuit said it would cover more than 600 employees who had been laid off or demoted when 1,100 of the company’s U.S. 11,000 workers were let go in February.

The company said pressures imposed by heightened competition, a shortage of new products and the impending expiration of valuable patents required that about $50 million in annual expenses be trimmed.

The cost-cutting program caused ″the disproportionate elimination″ from the company’s job ranks of ″substantial numbers″ of employees over 40, the lawsuit said.

Ms. Glynn said she did not know the percentage of laid-off workers over 40 but added, ″We do not release demographics of the workforce.″

The lawsuit alleged that the 89-year-old company designed and implemented employee retention, elimination, promotion, demotion and related policies in a way that discriminated against people over 40 and under 70.

On Monday, 61-year-old Earl Reeder of Nutley filed a similar lawsuit alleging that scientists in his section who survived recent layoffs by the company were younger than he is.

Reeder, who worked for the company for 32 years before he was laid off in February, also alleged that since his termination Hoffmann-LaRoche advertised and hired scientists younger and less qualified than he is.

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