BLUEFIELD – Five pharmaceutical salespeople claim they lost out on the opportunity to earn more than $100,000 per year when they were terminated after refusing to honor their employer's alleged unethical requests.

Tim Brown, Michelle Lillie, Richard Hidalgo, Valerie Honaker and Bonnie Weiss filed a lawsuit Sept. 23 in Mercer Circuit Court against Tethys Bioscience.

The five salespeople -- who hail from West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina -– claim they left cushy jobs in the medical and pharmaceutical sales field earning more than $100,000 per year to accept positions with Tethys.

"In order to entice Plaintiffs to Defendant's employ, Defendant offered each Plaintiff a generous base salary, stock options, health insurance, car allowance, and a sales bonus plan, provided that Plaintiff meet certain sales requirements," the suit states.

Before accepting the jobs, the plaintiffs inquired about whether Tethys had agreements with health maintenance organizations, knowing that such a relationship was crucial to meeting sales requirements, the complaint says. Tethys assured the plaintiffs it had such contracts in place throughout the United States.

However, only after the plaintiffs accepted employment with Tethys, did they learn that there were no such agreements, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the plaintiffs to meet their sales goals, they claim.

"When Plaintiffs informed Defendant that sales goals could not be met without contracts with medical laboratories and agreements with HMO's, Defendant chastised Plaintiffs and instructed Plaintiffs to make sales using 'any means necessary' even if it meant striking deals with medical laboratory and HMO lab technicians to facilitate the PreDX Diabetes Risk Test by offering them retail gift cards as payment," the suit states.

"Defendant also instructed Plaintiffs to urge medical providers not to order PreDX Diabetes Risk Tests for Medicare and Medicaid patients because Medicare and Medicaid did not pay Defendant the amount Defendant wanted for the PreDX Diabetes Risk Tests."

Because of their extensive experience in the pharmaceutical sales field, the plaintiffs claim they knew such requests could be considered unethical and illegal and refused to engage in such conduct.

As a result, the plaintiffs were either terminated or forced to resign, according to the complaint.

Since then, the plaintiffs have attempted to retain jobs with their former employers, but their previous positions have been filled, the suit states.

Because of the defendant's actions, the plaintiffs say they have lost wages, fringe benefits, their reputations and stock options and suffered mental anguish.

In their three-count complaint, the plaintiffs allege actual and constructive fraud and retaliatory discharge.

They seek unspecified exemplary or punitive damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief the court deems just.

Tethys removed the case from circuit court to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The California-based company claims it is a resident of a different state than the plaintiffs and that the plaintiffs seek more than $75,000 – the minimum jurisdictional requirement for federal court.

M. Hudson McClanahan of Brewster, Morhous, Cameron, Caruth, Moore, Kersey and Stafford in Bluefield will be representing the plaintiffs.

Charles L. Woody of Spilman, Thomas and Battle in Charleston will be representing Tethys.

U.S. District Court case number: 1:10-cv-1245

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