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Lawsuit alleges Merck discriminates against women

NEW YORK — A Merck & Co. sales representative is suing the drug maker for $100 million, saying Merck does not give women equal opportunities and punishes those who take maternity leave.

Kelli Smith, who has worked at Merck since 2004, alleges that sales plans create incentives to discriminate, that women are told to choose between being mothers and taking bigger roles at the ­company, and that men get more opportunities to develop important contacts.

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She seeks class-action ­status on behalf of female sales representatives.

Smith says she was demoted after taking maternity leave and was told it was because of the timing of her leave. The lawsuit also says the company discourages the hiring and promotion of women because compensation for managers and directors is decreased if employees take legally ­protected leave.

Merck did not respond to requests for comment.

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