A federal appeals court has affirmed a trial judge’s order that a Pennsylvania doctor and her husband must pay a total of $1.78 million in sanctions in a discrimination lawsuit that the court found was filed in bad faith.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed an order lodged against the doctor, Afoluso Adesanya, and her husband, Adenakan Adesanya, by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in their suit against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.
The unpublished ruling was issued by Third Circuit Judges Joseph Greenaway Jr., Stephanos Bibas and Jane Roth.
Wigenton had ordered the doctor to pay Novartis $1.3 million in connection with its successful defense of a counterclaim, and added $457,040 in counsel fees and costs for defending the lawsuit. The judge also ordered Adenakan Adesanya to pay another $23,714 for helping his wife pursue what the judge said was a baseless lawsuit.
The couple are now pro se, and attempts to contact them were unsuccessful.
Novartis’ lead attorney, John McCusker of Florham Park’s McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli, declined to comment.
The company issued a statement through a spokesman, Michael Meo: “We are very pleased with this result. It serves as an important reminder that we will vigorously defend against meritless lawsuits that are filed against the company.”
The Third Circuit panel said of Adesanya: “During her employment with [Novartis], she violated her employment agreement with [Novartis],” and “Appellants obstructed their depositions by refusing to turn over discovery, refusing to answer questions and providing false answers.”
Novartis, which is based in Switzerland but has offices throughout the United States, hired Adesanya in March 2010 as a brand safety leader in its oncology department, Wigenton said in an opinion accompanying the order.
Novartis was not aware that Adesanya misrepresented her credentials by fudging her job history, prior salary and prior positions, the ruling said.
For instance, Adesanya falsely claimed that she was an oncologist with another pharmaceutical company in its drug safety department, the opinion noted, Japan-based Astellas Pharma, and earning at least $500,000.
As part of her employment contact, Adesanya had pledged to refrain from working for any other companies, the opinion said.
Adesanya’s agreement with Novartis also required her to move from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, which never occurred, the ruling said.
Adesanya claimed moving was difficult because of back and neck pain, so Novartis said she could work at home two days a week, but she rarely, if ever, appeared in the New Jersey office, according to Wigenton.
Novartis, citing discontent with other employees about her work habits, fired her in September 2013.
She filed a lawsuit shortly afterward, alleging workplace discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation.
Wigenton said that neither she nor her husband cooperated with discovery and other demands, and made “false and misleading responses” to interrogatories.
“Plaintiff’s suit is extraordinary in that it is predicated on a willful, determined effort by plaintiff to deceive defendant and this court,” Wigenton wrote. “This is not a case of forgetfulness or confusion. This is perjury.”
For example, Adesanya lied during depositions, contending that she had not worked for other organizations during her time with Novartis, Wigenton said.
Her husband, meanwhile, failed to comply with subpoenas and subsequent court orders, and also was untruthful during depositions, according to the opinion.
Wigenton dismissed the suit, and granted Novartis’ motion for sanctions and for summary judgment on Novartis’ counterclaims, which were largely contract-based.