‘A problem with women’: CSL hit with gender discrimination claim

Australian blood giant CSL Behring is facing allegations in a US court it terminated a senior female employee not long after a representative from the company’s human resources team asked her whether she thought the company “has a problem with women”.

Julia Grant, who spearheaded CSL’s vital dealings with Capitol Hill during the Trump administration as the company’s director of US healthcare policy and federal relations, claims she was “illegally” sacked in a company restructure after being subjected to gender discrimination.

CSL former director of US healthcare policy and federal relations Julia Grant
CSL former director of US healthcare policy and federal relations Julia Grant

The case has also lifted the lid on CSL’s dealings in Washington and includes allegations her boss Patrick Collins took over a key internal committee responsible for overseeing campaign contributions and then directed the contributions to Republican members of Congress and candidates without consultation. Ms Grant alleges Mr Collins did this to further his aspirations to run for Congress.

The pharma giant is defending the claim and describes Ms Grant’s allegations as “baseless” but admits Mr Collins told Ms Grant that he was surprised he was not made redundant instead of her given it was his role that was eliminated in the restructure. It denies all other allegations made against Mr Collins.

Ms Grant, who joined CSL in 2017, alleges that while working at the biotech giant she witnessed incidents where women were belittled, spoken over or sidelined at the company.

The government relations specialist claims her woes began shortly after a new senior vice president for global healthcare policy and external affairs Mike Ruggiero joined the company in June 2019.

“On or about July 2019, [Mr] Ruggiero confronted [Ms] Grant regarding her alleged knowledge of the circumstances of his departure from his previous employer. [Mr] Ruggiero seemed to assume that [Ms] Grant knew about those circumstances, and stated words to the effect “you certainly know a lot of people in town. I just wanted you to know that I was told to push out [a female employee] at the direction of her boss,” the court documents allege. CSL denies this allegation.

In the same month, Ms Grant says she participated in a conference call with a legislative consulting group hired by Ms Grant and made up of mostly women. During that call, she claims Mr Ruggiero made disparaging remarks about the group’s female president while the phone was muted.


Ms Grant alleges that on another call in November that year, Mr Collins repeatedly talked over and interrupted Ms Grant every time she attempted to speak. “[Ms] Grant called [Mr] Collins after the call ended to state her dissatisfaction with his behaviour towards her during the call and in response [Mr] Collins denied any wrongdoing,” Ms Grant alleges in her claim.

‘When [Ms] Grant learned that [Mr] Collins removed her from telephonic conversations about the project, she replied to everyone on the email chain and asked why she was deliberately excluded from telephonic communications.’

Court documents

The matter came to a head in October 2020 after Ms Grant discovered she had been excluded from an important conference call regarding plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients, the claim alleges.

“When [Ms] Grant learned that [Mr] Collins removed her from telephonic conversations about the project, she replied to everyone on the email chain and asked why she was deliberately excluded from telephonic communications.”

According to the claim, Mr Collins asked Ms Grant to recall the email. She refused and during a call with Mr Collins expressed her frustration with him and [Mr] Ruggiero repeatedly excluding her from discussions and decisions regarding the company’s federal government relations strategy.

“The following day CSL’s human resources director assigned to global healthcare policy and external affairs team, Elizabeth Wixted, contacted [Ms] Grant and asked [Ms] Grant whether she believed CSL “has a problem with women”.

Ms Grant’s claim does not detail the exact words of her response but says the answer she gave should have constituted a protected activity under American employment law.

Ms Grant was sacked five months later in a company restructure. She is suing for gender discrimination and age discrimination alleging Mr Collins, aged 50 at the time, was given her job in part because he was 10 years younger than her. The six-figure salary earner is suing for lost wages, punitive damages and for the reinstatement of her position.

A spokesman for CSL said Ms Grant’s claims were baseless and without merit and the company intended to vigorously defend the case in court.

“CSL Behring does not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including on the basis of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or any other criteria protected by applicable law or company policy. We will also not tolerate harassment or retaliation in any form.

“In this instance, the position was eliminated solely as the result of a business reorganisation, which was undertaken to support the needs of the business.”

Lawyers for Ms Grant declined to comment.

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