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Monday, June 30, 2008 - Page updated at 07:40 PM

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Lilly agrees to settle discrimination lawsuit

Drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. will pay $64,400 to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of withholding severance pay to force a longtime employee to withdraw a discrimination charge.

AP Business Writer

INDIANAPOLIS —

Drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. will pay $64,400 to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of withholding severance pay to force a longtime employee to withdraw a discrimination charge.

The company also must spell out in future severance agreements that employees don't have to waive their right to file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or cooperate in an investigation, according to a statement from the commission.

The EEOC accused Lilly of violating federal anti-discrimination law by retaliating against employee Starr E. Johnson after she filed a discrimination charge.

"A company may not condition receipt of benefits, such as severance benefits, on an employee's promise not to cooperate with the EEOC," lawyer Laurie A. Young said in a statement released Monday by the EEOC. Young is the regional attorney for the commission's Indianapolis district office.

Lilly will pay Johnson $54,400 in severance pay and $7,000 in interest and compensatory damages, according to a settlement order filed for the case in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The company also will cover her $3,000 in attorney fees.

Johnson's attorney was unavailable for comment Monday.

Lilly denies violating any law or regulation, the order states.

"The company's settlement involves no admission of wrongdoing on Lilly's part," spokeswoman Carla Cox said in a separate e-mail. "And since we had already altered the language to which the EEOC objected, we agreed to resolve this dispute."

Johnson worked for Lilly for more than 23 years before she was fired in 2005, weeks after filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC. Documents in the EEOC case against Lilly state that Johnson, a black woman, became disfigured in 1997 after she was exposed to a blood pathogen.

They allege that a supervisor said he was made her supervisor "so that he could watch her and get rid of her and that no one liked looking at her."

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