GlaxoSmithKline whistleblower wins record payout

Cheryl Eckard, center – N.Y.TIMES photo by Gunther

A former quality control manager at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has received £61million, believed to be the largest ever reward for a whistleblower, after exposing a series of contamination problems at a drugs factory in Puerto Rico, and a subsequent cover-up by company bosses.

Cheryl Eckard, 51, will pocket the $96m share of a $750m criminal and civil settlement between US regulators and the British pharmaceuticals group. The case showed that the company repeatedly ignored serious failings, including allegations that staff were “skimming” drugs to sell them on the Latin American black market and that its factory had mixed drug types and doses in the same bottle.

Eckard first warned of the numerous violations after being sent by GSK to investigate problems in the group’s huge factory in Cidra, Puerto Rico, in July 2002, following a warning letter to the company from US health officials.

Over the next 10 months, she repeatedly alerted a string of GSK executives to a catalogue of breaches, only to be blocked and eventually sacked in 2003. In July of that year, Eckard phoned JP Garnier, the then chief executive, who declined to take the call to speak to her about the findings and the cover-up. Eckard, who is from North Carolina and is married with children, now works as a freelance consultant for the pharmaceutical industry…

Court documents show how Eckard was gradually sidelined, despite increasing complaints to a growing number of senior bosses.

I’m hard-pressed to comprehend companies that display this kind of pigheadedness. I’ve been peripherally involved with a few similar cases in major American firms – one of which resulted in an arrest – and time and again the fault lies with management that [a] refuses to believe that one of their peers could possibly be stupid, criminal or incompetent; and [b] they can’t believe that an ordinary mortal down in the bowels of the firm has turned up this foolishness – even with evidence staring them in the face.

If you pretend to care about the quality of your business, you had better listen to everyone up and down that ladder of command.

I’m pleased as Punch to see a whistleblower rewarded. Especially after being harassed and fired for her efforts.