CHICAGO, Feb. 9, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, Linda O'Risky, former global product compliance director at Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ("Complaint"), alleging that Mead Johnson terminated her employment in retaliation for raising serious safety and compliance issues relating to the company's manufacture of ready-to-use infant formula. Mead Johnson is the third-largest maker of baby food globally by retail sales and distributes its products under various brand names, including Enfamil and Nutramigen. Ms. O'Risky, who worked with Mead Johnson and its predecessor for more than 25 years, alleges that in March 2015, she learned that the company intended to destroy more than 1 million eight-ounce units of its ready-to-use infant formula ("RTU") due to leaking seals on the bottles. Such leaks could result in product spoilage and, more seriously, contamination. According to the Complaint, the batches in question had been manufactured several months earlier, suggesting that more potentially defective units had entered the market.
The Complaint alleges that over the next seven months, Ms. O'Risky tried to persuade Mead Johnson's management to comply with Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") regulations and deal with the RTU seal issue responsibly, but the individuals assigned to investigate it claimed that a defective seal did not constitute a food safety or FDA compliance problem, since any spoilage resulting from a defective seal would be obvious to a consumer. According to the Complaint, Ms. O'Risky repeatedly argued that a defective seal could allow microorganisms and other contaminants into the packages after sterilization and that defective processes and incidents of spoilage in the market must be reported to the FDA, and she also noted that Mead Johnson touted its hermetically sealed RTU products as safer than powdered formula for pre-term and other at-risk infants. The Complaint alleges that senior management officials dismissed her concerns.
According to the Complaint, Ms. O'Risky also reported her concerns to Mead Johnson's compliance department on two occasions, prompting investigations in which it was clear to her colleagues that she had made the reports. As Ms. O'Risky continued to press her concerns, the Complaint alleges, she was increasingly marginalized, excluded from meetings, denied a promotion opportunity, and ultimately terminated in November 2015. According to the Complaint, at the time of Ms. O'Risky's termination, Mead Johnson had not taken any steps to remove defective, potentially dangerous RTU products from the market or alert consumers to the risks, nor had it reported the deviations to the FDA, and in fact, that Mead Johnson only contacted the FDA after she asserted employment claims against the company.
The Complaint alleges that Mead Johnson violated the whistleblower protections of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the Dodd-Frank Act, and that Ms. O'Risky's termination was an illegal retaliatory discharge under Illinois law. The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed in 2011 to prevent the rising incidence of foodborne diseases and contamination, including in infant formulas. To date, there are only four published court decisions interpreting the law's whistleblower protection provision.
According to Debra Katz of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, who represents Ms. O'Risky, "It is unconscionable to allow infants, the most vulnerable among us, to be exposed to life-threatening risks. People like Ms. O'Risky, who speak up about these dangers, shouldn't suffer as a result." The Valorem Law Group's Stuart Chanen, who also represents Ms. O'Risky, added, "This is a classic case of a diligent employee telling the company something it didn't want to hear, and instead of taking action to fix the actual problem, Mead Johnson tried to make the problem go away by firing the messenger."
Ms. O'Risky is represented by attorneys Debra S. Katz and Michael A. Filoromo of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, and by Stuart Chanen of the Valorem Law Group.
"Employees like Linda [O'Risky] are on the front lines of protecting people from the harm caused by cutting corners in complying with food safety regulations."
CONTACT: Debra Katz, Esquire (202) 299-1140 - firstname.lastname@example.org
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SOURCE Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP