Fired Lawyer Wins Right to Sue Amgen

by Martin Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times
December 17, 2008

A former Amgen Inc. patent lawyer won a victory Tuesday in his effort to get restitution for his firing last year for what he called whistle-blower activities targeting the pharmaceutical giant.

A Ventura County Superior Court judge ruled that Darrell G. Dotson of Newbury Park can pursue his case in court -- often a more lucrative path -- rather than through the company's arbitration process.

 

Dotson contended he was fired in August in retaliation for reporting to an Amgen internal investigator what he believed to be "legal and ethical improprieties" at the Thousand Oaks company, said one of his attorneys, Rob Hennig of Century City.

"Two weeks later, he was fired," said the lawyer, who declined to say what information his client revealed.

Amgen spokesman David Polk said the company "believes Dotson's claims are without merit and we will defend against them vigorously." He wouldn't comment on whether the company would appeal the ruling by Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh.

Hennig and fellow attorney Lydia Cotz added that Walsh's ruling could have a broader effect on other wrongful-termination cases in the aftermath of last summer's round of firings at Amgen. Some recent studies have shown that juries tend to be more sympathetic than arbitrators to the complaints of aggrieved employees, and damage awards tend to be bigger.

Dotson's employment contract with Amgen required that disputes with the company be submitted to arbitration.

When Dotson was fired, he filed a lawsuit instead, arguing that the arbitration clause in his contract made it too difficult for him to prove his case.

Among other things, the clause required Dotson to get permission from the arbitrator to depose more than one person who was not being called as an expert witness.

That restriction, Dotson contended, gave the company an unfair advantage. And Walsh agreed, ruling that the restriction was a potential "fatal disadvantage" to the plaintiff.

In wrongful-termination cases, "the employee typically has a greater need to take depositions to get access to persons not otherwise available to him/her in the form of company officers, supervisors and employees who participated in the decision to fire," Walsh wrote.