December 4, 2014 / 8:07 AM / 5 years ago

Ex-Sanofi worker says she was fired for reporting $34 million in kickbacks

(Reuters) - A former Sanofi SA paralegal has sued the French pharmaceutical company, saying it fired her for alleging it had paid $34 million to get doctors, hospitals and pharmacies to switch patients to its diabetes drugs.

A man enters the headquarters of French drugmaker Sanofi in Paris October 30, 2014. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Diane Ponte filed her lawsuit on Wednesday in a state court in New Jersey against Sanofi and several people she said were involved in the kickback scheme. They included former Chief Executive Officer Christopher Viehbacher, who was fired on Oct. 29.

Ponte worked in Sanofi’s Bridgewater, New Jersey, office reviewing contracts for legal compliance, according to the lawsuit. In March 2013, she discovered that nine contracts paying $34 million to accounting firm Deloitte LLP and consulting firm Accenture Plc were actually covers for kickbacks, the lawsuit said.

Deloitte and Accenture are not defendants in the case.

When Ponte did not immediately approve the contracts, she said in the lawsuit, a superior told her that Viehbacher was “extremely unhappy,” and he ordered her to approve them.

In September 2013, Ponte was demoted to a position reporting to another paralegal, and in March she received her first-ever negative performance review, the lawsuit said. She was fired on Oct. 15.

Ponte is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages for the loss of her job and her emotional distress under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, a law that protects whistle-blowers.

“The relationship between the termination of her employment and the whistle-blowing was blatant,” said Ponte’s lawyer, Rosemarie Arnold. “Before the whistle-blowing activity, she had been a model employee.”

Sanofi said in a written statement that the lawsuit was without merit. It called Ponte “a disgruntled former employee who is opportunistically attacking our company.”

The case is Ponte v. Sanofi SA et al, Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Ted Botha and Lisa Von Ahn

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