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Anti-American Bias Forces Foreign Company to Trial

Teva Pharmaceuticals is an Israeli-based company. Stephen Middlebrooks, age 60, began working for Teva in 2001. In 2013, the working environment changed for Mr. Middlebrooks as he was promoted and began reporting to an Israeli manager. Just before his promotion, the manager asked him about his age and his plans for retirement. Within two months of his promotion, Mr. Middlebrooks received his first less than stellar performance review and did not receive his usual equity award. In 2015, Teva began searching for Mr. Middlebrooks replacement. During that same time period, Mr. Middlebrooks and some colleagues complained about age and cultural bias coming from Israeli members of a visiting group. It was investigated.
The internal investigation did not conclude that a hostile work environment existed. However, it did find that the Israeli executives’ requests for age and demographic information reflected bias. The managers were to receive sensitivity training and information about American laws and practices. Within one week of the report, Mr. Middlebrooks received a negative mid-year review and he was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan about which he complained via email that it was discriminatory and retaliatory. He was fired and replaced with a 38-year-old within a few months.
The federal district court found that Mr. Middlebrooks could show that age and national origin discrimination were possible and that the non-discriminatory reason for his termination could be pretextual. Teva managers had made anti-American comments reflecting bias such as Americans are “stupid” and “did a poor job of supporting Israel in its military action in the Middle East.” Those comments along with the lack of discipline of the Israeli-based managers, the questions about the employee retirement plans, and the age-related questions all created questions for the jury to consider. The fact that the same manager both promoted and fired Mr. Middlebrooks was not dispositive on the issue. The Israeli company will go before an American jury.