Sanofi Whistleblower Alleges Company Attorneys Destroyed Documents
November 23, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
As a whistleblower lawsuit against Paris-based Sanofi steams ahead, ex-paralegal Diane Ponte alleges that Sanofi lawyers destroyed documents rather than provide them in other legal cases.
Ponte has accused Sanofi, among other things, of shifting $34 million in kickbacks and “incentive payments” to doctors and pharmacies to influence them to prescribe its diabetes drugs. Ponte claims she uncovered the kickbacks in March 2013 while reviewing nine contracts while she was working at the company’s New Jersey headquarters. The nine contracts totaled $34 million.
Seven of the nine contracts were with Accenture, two were with Deloitte. She alleges that these were direct incentives from Sanofi to physicians, hospitals and pharmacies to illegally influence them to prescribe Sanofi’s diabetes drug over other companies’ products. In addition, she alleges that Chris Viehbacher’s firing in October 2014 was in part due to the allegations.
Ponte’s lawsuits also states that when she resisted signing off on the agreement, she was subjected to a “severe and pervasive pattern of workplace retaliation.” She was fired on October 29, 2014. In her complaint, Ponte says her supervisors referred to her as a “ditz,” “dingbat,” “lunatic” and “scatterbrain.”
Ponte’s attorney, Rosemarie Arnold, in October 2014, told Bloomberg Businessweek, “The acts surrounding her termination from the company were blatantly related to her whistle-blowing activity. She was a model employee before that.”
Now Ponte has filed an affidavit in Newark, New Jersey court, stating, “In the course of my working in the Sanofi litigation department, I became personally aware of many instances in which documents were deliberately destroyed by Sanofi attorneys to avoid turning over said documents in discovery.”
Although Sanofi has indicated that it does not comment on pending litigation, the company last year referred to Ponte as a “disgruntled former employee who is opportunistically attacking our company,” and further said her accusations of employment law violations were “without merit.”
The company is being a little more harsh in their wording over this most recent allegation, with Sanofi attorney John Bennet saying her claims were “false, scandalous and unsupported by any evidence.”
However, despite attempts by Sanofi’s attorneys to remove that particular paragraph from the affidavit, Essex County Judge Michelle Hollar-Gregory refused.
Further allegations include that Sanofi’s North American general counsel, Robert DeBerardine, and another company attorney, Edward Berg, were not licensed in New Jersey to practice law during at least part of their tenure at Sanofi. This is required by state Supreme Court ruling for in-house counsel.
Sanofi has also requested that Ponte or her attorneys return company documents that they possess. Sanofi’s Bennett argued in court that Ponte had stolen the documents and that they were not subject to attorney-client privilege. One of Ponte’s lawyers, Chris Dubin, retorted, “It’s not true!” referring to the theft. Rosemarie Arnold, Ponte’s lead attorney, did say that many of the papers were not subject to attorney-client privilege because they had been seen by many people not in Sanofi’s legal department. Judge Hollar-Gregory has overruled Sanofi’s requests.
At least some of those documents include an email from one of Sanofi’s in-house lawyers, Berg, written on March 21, 2013. The email, which is in court records, refers to his quick review of Accenture contracts, which actually expresses concern over the contracts, saying it “has almost no meaningful deliverables, is poorly constructed and incorrectly mentions Regulatory Review. … My initial overall take is that the contract violates almost every principal of financial stewardship and good business practices, with few deliverables, an outlandishly short time frame, no consideration as to the clear legal issues in these types of engagements with customers.”
Despite those apparent concerns, Ponte alleges Sanofi insisted on approval.