Sexual Harassment Scandals Hit Novartis and Pfizer's Korea Units


Two separate Korea-based business entities of pharma giants Novartis and Pfizer are embroiled in sexual harassment scandals in that country.

On Wednesday and then again this morning, the Korea Biomedical Review published articles detailing reports of alleged harassment at the two companies.

On Wednesday, KBR reported that a male employee at Novartis Korea reported to the company that his female boss sexually harassed him in September. According to the report, the female employee “made excessive physical contacts and sexual comments” to the male employee during a company function. The veracity of the comments were supported by others at the company event, KBR said.

Novartis acted quickly after the incident was reported. The Korean business unit established a committee to address the complaints, which KBR said, may have prompted the female employee to hand in her resignation. She left the company for personal reasons, KBR reported.

“Novartis Korea does not tolerate any wrongdoing that goes against not only the company’s value and code of conduct but also a social norm. The company is making an effort to create an office environment where employees mutually trust and respect,” Novartis Korea said in a statement to Korea Biomedical Review.

Novartis’ quick action is in rather stark contrast to the way Pfizer Korea reportedly handled a sexual harassment complaint. KBR said this morning that an online posting outed a senior Pfizer employee for allegedly groping females during a “drinking session.” According to the online posting, the male Pfizer employee would inappropriately touch women while “faking” a hug during these drinking sessions. Instead of forming a committee to address the allegations, the posting said Pfizer transferred the male employee to another position without “any punitive measure.”

Pfizer Korea defended itself to KBR saying the company took “due procedures” to handle the allegations.

“After receiving the report (on the sexual harassment), the company quickly set up measures to prevent recurrence of such case. We cannot open detailed punishment, but we took appropriate measures (to the offender),” a Pfizer Korea official told Korea Biomedical Review. “To prevent recurrence, the company decided to enhance training and apply stricter rules.”

Allegations of sexual harassment come at a time when the industry as a whole is closely examining diversity and sexism. Earlier this week, reports surfaced of three separate sexual harassment lawsuits filed against Massachusetts-based Alkermes. Last year, more than 400 current and former female employees filed a $250 million class action lawsuit against pharma giant Merck & Co. alleging gender discrimination and unequal pay. In 2015 Alcon, a Novartis division, was slapped with a $110 million gender discrimination lawsuit that alleged the company fosters a “boys club” attitude that is hostile to women.

Perhaps most infamously was an industry party held at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that featured hired models in outfits described as “scanty.” Since the outcry over that party, there have been steps taken to elevate more women to executive and boardroom levels in the industry. Women occupy only 20 of 112 senior management roles at the 10 highest-valued companies in the pharma and biotech industry. In startups, the numbers are better, but not by much. Of the top 10 biotech startups that raised the most money in 2014, only 19 percent of top executives were female and only 8 percent of board members were female, Bloomberg reported.

Back to news