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Fired chief diversity officer sues big drug distributor, saying it “rebuffed and resisted” his efforts

The Conshohocken-based firm is accused of firing Lonie Haynes because of his advocacy for diversity in the workplace. A company spokesperson said it stands by the decision to terminate him.

AmerisourceBergen's headquarters on 1 West First Avenue in Conshohocken, PA.
AmerisourceBergen's headquarters on 1 West First Avenue in Conshohocken, PA.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Lonie Haynes, the former chief diversity and inclusion officer for AmerisourceBergen, claims the company fired him in less than a year after leaders rejected his attempts to diversify the board and executive management, according to a race discrimination lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Haynes, who is African American and previously served as chief diversity officer at Highmark Health in Pittsburgh, alleges that he was fired Oct. 1 because of his race and his advocacy in the newly created role. He contends that executives came up with a pretext to terminate him, falsely claiming that Haynes overstepped his authority to approve a vendor contract, and that his wife had a financial interest in the vendor.

“They did so by accusing him of ‘compliance violations’ he did not commit and for which they had no proof,” the lawsuit says.

Headquartered in Conshohocken, AmerisourceBergen is one of the biggest pharmaceutical distributors in the country, generating $214 billion in revenue during its latest fiscal year. Like many businesses in 2020, AmerisourceBergen announced new commitments to diversity as nationwide demonstrations and attention to racial injustice put pressure on companies to act.

CEO Steve Collis, in a news release last November, called it a “crucial step in our journey” to establish a chief diversity and inclusion officer role, and said Haynes would be “instrumental in helping us build a stronger workforce.”

But Haynes’ suit alleges that executives rebuffed his suggestions, such as increasing Black representation on the board of directors, and “adamantly” told him not to provide the board with details on the lack of African Americans and women in leadership roles.

In a statement, a company spokesperson said: “AmerisourceBergen is proud of our track record regarding diversity and inclusion and it created the role of the chief diversity and inclusion officer to further the organization’s accomplishments and efforts in this space. We firmly stand behind our decision to terminate Dr. Haynes’ employment and will address the allegations made in the suit in our legal response.”

AmerisourceBergen is “wholly focused on moving forward and identifying a new leader who can fill this important role and continue to foster and advance the company’s inclusive culture to the benefit of our global workforce and the health care providers and patients we support around the world,” the spokesperson said.

Haynes was the only African American out of about 15 people who reported to two white executives, according to the suit: Gina Clark, the company’s chief communications and administration officer, and Silvana Battaglia, its chief human resources officer. Both are named as defendants in the suit and the company did not make them available separately for comment.

Haynes claims the two executives “rebuffed and resisted” his efforts to do the job he was hired to do, and accused him of “compliance violations,” without providing any written explanation, during an Oct. 1 Zoom call.

According to the suit, Clark and Battaglia told Haynes the violations related to a $28,000 contract he approved with a minority- and female-owned business, hired to provide such promotional products as water bottles, coasters and tote bags for executives and managers.

Clark and Battaglia, the suit says, told Haynes he did not have authority to approve the contract, questioned whether all items had been delivered, and made an accusation that his wife had a financial interest in the vendor.

Haynes responded that Clark herself had approved the contract, and that he also had authority to approve contracts up to $150,000, the suit says.

He alleges that their claim about his wife was “utterly false.” He explained, the suit says, that about 20 years ago his wife had a firm that partnered with the vendor, “but that relationship had ended long ago and that for the last seven years his wife has been an educator in the Pittsburgh public school system.”

Furthermore, three days after the company fired Haynes, the suit contends, a company investigator contacted the vendor, who provided tracking numbers for the products she’d sent, and identified other orders that were still awaiting artwork from the company.

The lawsuit alleges the “real motive” for firing Haynes was “because of his race and his advocacy for a diverse and inclusive” workforce.

Clark and Battaglia “rebuffed” a recommendation by Haynes to increase the number of African Americans on its 10-member board, up from one board member who is Black, according to the suit.

“Similarly, Ms. Clark and Ms. Battaglia rejected his recommendation that its executive management committee on which they served and which has no Black members should be made more diverse and inclusive,” the suit claims.

Haynes alleges that Clark and Battaglia also “disapproved his recommendation” to give the board an annual report detailing company strategies on workforce diversity, and identifying employees, executives, and managers by their race, gender and disability.

“In a similar vein,” the suit alleges, “they adamantly told Dr. Haynes not to provide [AmerisourceBergen’s] board of directors with detailed information about the dearth of qualified African Americans, women and disabled employees in leadership positions at the company.”

Harold Goodman, an attorney for Haynes, said, “We welcome the opportunity to vindicate Dr. Haynes’ rights and to undo the harm that has been done to him and to fully remedy the violations of his right to equal employment opportunity.”