Famed Genomics Pioneer's Synthetic Genomics Hit With Gender Discrimination Lawsuit by Former VP

Published: Sep 21, 2017

Famed Genomics Pioneer's Synthetic Genomics Hit With Gender Discrimination Lawsuit by Former VP September 21, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

LA JOLLA, Calif. – Synthetic Genomics has been sued for gender discrimination. A former company attorney filed a lawsuit against the firm claiming discrimination against her and other female employees, the San Diego Union Tribune reported this morning.

The company said the lawsuit is without merit and intends to fight the lawsuit, according to reports.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 7 by Teresa Spehar in San Diego. Spehar had served as vice president of intellectual property, but was terminated on June 20, the Union Tribune said. In the lawsuit, Spehar said she and other women “were routinely discriminated against in various ways at Synthetic Genomics,” according to reports. Spehar said women at the firm receive less pay than men, less frequent promotions and are excluded from meetings. In short, Spehar claimed that Synthetic Genomics is a “boys club.”

Even though Spehar was a vice president in charge of intellectual property, she said she was excluded from meetings that dealt with partnerships, deals and decisions involving intellectual property, Xconomy noted. Spehar said although she was primarily responsible for safeguarding the company’s intellectual property, she was excluded from decisions over those matters, according to reports.

Spehar’s attorney told Xconomy that there are only two female executives and none on the seven-member C-level leadership team. The disparity of women in leadership roles is also reflected in director positions and senior scientist roles, Josh Gruenberg, Spehar’s attorney said.

During her tenure at Synthetic Genomics, Spehar had an annual salary of $275,000, but said her male colleagues were paid higher for “substantially similar work.”

Oliver Fetzer, Synthetic Genomics chief executive officer, said that the company works “to ensure that women are valued, supported and encouraged to be at the forefront of our highly innovative and critical work.” Still, he did note to the Union Tribune that across the biotech industry there is a significant gender gap at the executive level and on boards of directors.

“This has been an area of focus and commitment from the Synthetic Genomics board and our entire leadership team,” Fetzer said, according to the Union Tribune.

Synthetic Genomics is certainly not the first company to be charged with being a “boys club.” In 2015, Alcon Laboritis, a division of Novartis , faced similar charged. Plaintiffs charged the company with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination by employers, and the U.S. Equal Pay Act. Alcon ultimately settled the lawsuit for $8 million.

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