Employers can face serious legal consequences when they retaliate against whistleblowers. A whistleblower is an employee who voices a complaint about a company’s misconduct, such as filing complaints about safety and health code violations, shareholder fraud, mismanagement of fiances or other illegal activity. Additionally, employees who make initial complaints, those that follow up on those concerns or give information to investigators are also considered whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are protected against retaliation by their employers and companies under both federal and state laws.
Recently, Mead Johnson Nutrition, the Glenview-based manufacturer of pediatric food brands such as Enfamil, has come under a whistleblower lawsuit filed by the company’s former compliance director after she allegedly voiced her concerns about defective product packaging that could have led to spoilage.
Linda O’Risky, a former 25-year employee of Mead Johnson, claimed that she was fired after raising concerns about defects in the packaging of the Enfamil ready-to-use baby formula. Ms. O’Risky filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago against Mead Johnson Nutrition for retaliation which violates the Food Safety Modernization Act, Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act.
The lawsuit alleges that seals on the ready-to-use baby formula product are prone to leaking, which makes it easier for microorganisms and contaminants to enter the package. In March 2015, Ms. O’Risky discovered the defective seals after being copied on an e-mail regarding the rejection of almost a million units of 8-ounce ready-to-use formula. Allegedly, Ms. O’Risky knew that there was an increased rate of complaints about the ready-to-use baby formula from her role of analyzing consumer complaints.
Ms. O’Risky alleges that, after she spent seven months trying to persuade upper management to comply with the Food and Drug Administration regulations, she contacted the company’s “integrity concern hotline” where she filed an internal complaint. According to Ms. O’Risky, upper level management “hoped the defective product would make its way through the marketplace without any major incidents of harm to consumers and without having to fulfill its legal obligation to report the problem.”
Mead Johnson denied the allegations in the complaint. The company maintains that it holds an open and respectful environment for its workers and did not retaliate against Ms. O’Risky. The case is still pending.
Unfortunately, in some instances whistleblower employees are reprimanded for doing what’s right. Whistleblower employees who are discriminated against, demoted or terminated for speaking out may have grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, will investigate your claim, advise you on your legal options, and fight vigorously for your rights. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (917) 371-8000 or fill out our contact form.