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Ex-J&J officer files lawsuit as whistle-blower

Dec 15, 2006 | Star Ledger

The former chief medical officer for a unit of Johnson & Johnson has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the company, claiming he was fired for seeking product recalls of several faulty medical devices.

Joel Lippman said he was terminated from his post at Ethicon in May, after working at the subsidiary for almost six years. Before that, Lippman, 52, of Warren, helped oversee clinical trials for a decade at another J&J unit, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals.

 Lippman claims he raised flags about several products that could pose risks to patients, including Ortho Evra, a skin patch that works as a contraceptive device, according to a lawsuit filed last month in state Superior Court in Middlesex County. At one point in his career, he said, his bonus was threatened when he raised safety concerns.

In a statement yesterday, J&J said Lippman's allegations are untrue.

Attorneys said the suit could be a boon for personal injury lawyers trying cases against the health-care giant, but only if Lippman has documentation to back up his claims.

More than 1,000 product liability suits have been filed so far alleging the Ortho Evra patch causes a higher risk of blood clots and stroke. Last November, the Food and Drug Administration approved an updated label for the patch that highlights a significant increase in estrogen exposure for women who use it compared to those who take ordinary birth control pills.

In the most recent incident mentioned in the lawsuit, Lippman said he raised concerns in April about a defectively designed device called an arterial cannula, which is used in heart bypass surgery. In at least one instance, part of the tip broke off during surgery, so Lippman called a meeting of Ethicon's "quality assurance board."

The board recommended a recall on April 14, according to the suit. When nothing happened for a week, Lippman said he tried to arrange a meeting with Sherilyn McCoy, the group chairman of Ethicon. No meeting was held, but on April 27, Lippman claims, he learned another executive wanted to soften the quality assurance board's assessment to justify a less sweeping recall.

In May, Lippman was summoned to a meeting with McCoy and a human resources executive, where "to his total astonishment and surprise," he was asked to resign for a "false" reason the company used as a pretext, the suit claims. The reason the company gave is not divulged in the suit. Lippman was let go a week later.

Ethicon said it could not discuss the lawsuit while it was pending.

"Our company is committed to quality and positive patient outcomes, and we will vigorously defend against his claims because we believe the allegations are not true," the company said in a statement.

Lippman could not be reached yesterday, and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

The suit claims the executive's total compensation was $1.15 million last year. Lippman said he has been unable to find a comparable job elsewhere.

The suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, is based on two claims. One is New Jersey's Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which prohibits companies from retaliating against workers who act as whistle-blowers, including those who object to practices that could jeopardize the public health or safety.

Another is an age-based claim: Lippman said his job was eliminated and replaced with a similar position filled by a younger executive.

Joel Lippman said he was terminated from his post at Ethicon in May, after working at the subsidiary for almost six years. Before that, Lippman, 52, of Warren, helped oversee clinical trials for a decade at another J&J unit, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals.

 Lippman claims he raised flags about several products that could pose risks to patients, including Ortho Evra, a skin patch that works as a contraceptive device, according to a lawsuit filed last month in state Superior Court in Middlesex County. At one point in his career, he said, his bonus was threatened when he raised safety concerns.

In a statement yesterday, J&J said Lippman's allegations are untrue.

Attorneys said the suit could be a boon for personal injury lawyers trying cases against the health-care giant, but only if Lippman has documentation to back up his claims.

More than 1,000 product liability suits have been filed so far alleging the Ortho Evra patch causes a higher risk of blood clots and stroke. Last November, the Food and Drug Administration approved an updated label for the patch that highlights a significant increase in estrogen exposure for women who use it compared to those who take ordinary birth control pills.

In the most recent incident mentioned in the lawsuit, Lippman said he raised concerns in April about a defectively designed device called an arterial cannula, which is used in heart bypass surgery. In at least one instance, part of the tip broke off during surgery, so Lippman called a meeting of Ethicon's "quality assurance board."

The board recommended a recall on April 14, according to the suit. When nothing happened for a week, Lippman said he tried to arrange a meeting with Sherilyn McCoy, the group chairman of Ethicon. No meeting was held, but on April 27, Lippman claims, he learned another executive wanted to soften the quality assurance board's assessment to justify a less sweeping recall.

In May, Lippman was summoned to a meeting with McCoy and a human resources executive, where "to his total astonishment and surprise," he was asked to resign for a "false" reason the company used as a pretext, the suit claims. The reason the company gave is not divulged in the suit. Lippman was let go a week later.

Ethicon said it could not discuss the lawsuit while it was pending.

"Our company is committed to quality and positive patient outcomes, and we will vigorously defend against his claims because we believe the allegations are not true," the company said in a statement.

Lippman could not be reached yesterday, and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

The suit claims the executive's total compensation was $1.15 million last year. Lippman said he has been unable to find a comparable job elsewhere.

The suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, is based on two claims. One is New Jersey's Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which prohibits companies from retaliating against workers who act as whistle-blowers, including those who object to practices that could jeopardize the public health or safety.

Another is an age-based claim: Lippman said his job was eliminated and replaced with a similar position filled by a younger executive.


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