After dismissing CFO over 'inappropriate messages,' Eli Lilly faces new accusations of sexual discrimination and harassment
A month after ousting CFO Josh Smiley for sending “inappropriate messages” to employees, Eli Lilly is facing new allegations that an executive and a senior manager at its Washington, DC office sexually discriminated against and harassed multiple women.
Sonya Elling, a former Lilly lobbyist of about 16 years, filed a lawsuit in federal court last Friday accusing her second-level supervisor Leigh Ann Pusey of making sexist remarks about her, undermining her authority, and subjecting her to a “sexually hostile work environment,” eventually forcing her to resign.
The complaint states that Pusey “regularly mocked and belittled” Elling and other female employees, referring to them as “nasty,” “mean,” and a “bitch.” And that another supervisor Shawn O’Neail, who Pusey hired in 2019, made “sexually aggressive gestures” toward the employees.
Lilly denied the allegations in a statement to Endpoints News.
“Lilly is committed to fostering and promoting a culture of diversity and respect, and a work environment free of discrimination, harassment or retaliation of any kind,” spokesperson Kathryn Beiser said in an email. “We hold all employees accountable to our core values and believe our executives carry an even higher burden in ensuring those values are upheld.”
Pusey was tapped as senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications in May 2017, months after CEO Dave Ricks took the helm.
Among the accusations is that Pusey told Elling, who was 49 at the time, that her age would keep her from successfully engaging with members of Congress because she wasn’t a “pretty young thing.” And she noticeably preferred male colleagues, according to Elling, often flirting and calling them names like “young buck.”
In May 2018, a colleague referred to as “Employee Y” reported “sexist comments” that Pusey allegedly made about Elling and other female employees. In a report to Joseph Kelley, Lilly’s former vice president of global government and international corporate affairs, the employee wrote:
I genuinely believe that Pusey has created a hostile workplace environment, and that in many ways, she truly is a workplace bully. Frankly, I have concerns about my position, and because Pusey has shown limited competence in terms of exhibiting the Lilly values – Respect for People, Integrity and Excellence – I am genuinely concerned that she may take retaliatory action against myself or my team.
Elling accuses Pusey of retaliating after that, excluding her and another colleague from important projects, meetings and communications that were part of their job responsibilities.
After Kelley retired in 2019, Pusey hired O’Neail as a replacement, who was on a mission to “clean house,” the complaint states. Elling accused O’Neail of engaging in “inappropriate sexual self-groping in her office, at her eye level and in violation of her personal space.”
The Novartis vet allegedly has a history of “misogynistic, as well as racist, behavior,” according to the complaint, which accuses O’Neail of using the “n” word to refer to a Pfizer lobbyist. It also accuses him of changing his clothes in an all-glass conference room “in full view of female staff members” while working at Novartis.
It isn’t clear how Elling’s counsel knows of these past accusations. Endpoints reached out to Novartis to verify the claims, but a company spokesperson would only confirm that O’Neail worked there, and that he left two years ago. Endpoints also reached out to Elling’s attorney, and has not received a response.
In a meeting with HR, O’Neail falsely accused Elling of making disparaging comments about Lilly to congressional staff, that lawsuit states. He eventually put Elling on a performance improvement plan, which was “riddled with misrepresentations, as well as negative stereotypes of women,” according to the complaint.
On Dec. 1, 2019, Elling sent in her resignation, explaining that she was forced to leave due to Pusey and O’Neail’s “discrimination and retaliation” against her, the suit states.
That was just a couple months before Smiley the company’s finance chief, was dismissed over an “inappropriate personal relationship” with an employee. The CFO was cited for sending “consensual but inappropriate personal communications” to multiple team members, Lilly said. The drugmaker didn’t specify the content of those messages or whether they were explicitly sexual in nature.
According to an SEC filing, Smiley was forced to forfeit $24 million in compensation as he walked out the door.
A previous version of this article stated that Pusey and O’Neail were accused of sexual harassment. The story has been updated to reflect that they were accused of sexual discrimination, and harassment.