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A Former Bayer VP Says She Was Fired for Defending a Pregnant Colleague

The former exec was once named "Working Mother of the Year."Photograph by Patrik Stollarz AFP/Getty Images

Former Bayer vice president Irene Laurora is suing the pharma giant for alleged discrimination, claiming she was dismissed because she stood up for a pregnant colleague’s maternity leave.

Laurora claims than an unnamed colleague was taken off of a project because the latter employee wanted to take the maternity leave that was owed to her. Afterwards, according to the suit, Laurora confronted supervisors about that decision and was eventually fired.

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Bayer is already pushing back on the claims. “[The company] will vigorously defend itself in this action but, as the matter is before the court, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” the firm said in a statement, adding that it hews to anti-discriminatory policies.

The basis of Laurora’s suit rests on the allegation that she was denied a promotion opportunity after speaking up about her colleague’s situation, and that she was asked to settle for a position that would amount to a demotion.

Merck (MRK) is another pharma giant currently embroiled in a gender discrimination spat. The U.S. drug maker is being sued by more than 400 women for alleged unequal pay and a hostile work environment that amounted to a boys’ club.

Regardless of how these suits are resolved, there’s plenty of evidence that a male-dominated biotech and pharmaceutical sector can lead to plenty of problems. During the most recent JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, which attracts a who’s who of life science investors, researchers, and executives, the firm LifeSci Advisors came under intense criticism for hosting a party that featured scantily clad female models to entertain the largely male attendees.