A former regional manager for Abbott Laboratories Inc. suing the drug giant under the False Claims Act’s whistleblower provisions says she was harassed and ultimately fired from her job in retaliation for her refusal to participle in illegal marketing schemes designed to boost sales of Abbott’s faltering medical devices.
Ebonia Elliot-Lewis served as Abbott’s regional medical science manager in the Northeast for several years alleges she was regularly harassed by her supervisors after submitting an internal complaint with Abbott’s ethics office. In that complaint, Elliott-Lewis said Abbott executives were pressuring her and other medical managers to illegally promote its XIENCE V heart stent for unapproved, off-label purposes.
The complaint states that sales of the device had plummeted after clinical trials found the device was no more effective in treating heart disease than drugs, and from the increased availability of similar competing products on the market.
Elliott-Lewis alleges Abbott also pressured her and other managers to market bioresorbable vascular scaffolds, which had not received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
The lawsuit states that Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries account for more than half of heart stent patients, so the federal government could have paid up to $250 million to Abbott in false claims on products that were either unapproved by the FDA or used for off-label purposes.
According to Law 360, Ms. Elliott-Lewis alleges that Abbott’s retaliation against her “took the form of a reduction in job responsibilities, ignoring requests for assistance, leaving her out of meetings and drawing up an uncalled-for negative performance review in 2013.”
Elliott Lewis says that after she refused to promote the two products and submitted her internal complaint, Abbott lashed out at her. She then filed a second complaint about the harassment, but asserts the company first botched its probe of the issue and then fired her before the investigation could be completed.