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Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp.

84 N.J. 58, 417 A.2d 505 (1980)

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Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp.

New Jersey Supreme Court

84 N.J. 58, 417 A.2d 505 (1980)

Facts

Dr. Grace Pierce (plaintiff) was an at-will employee of drug manufacturer Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. (Ortho) (defendant). As Ortho’s director of medical research/therapeutics, Pierce oversaw the development of therapeutic drugs including the diarrhea-treatment medicine loperamide. The proposed formula for loperamide was based on a European formula that used saccharin. Because saccharin was a controversial ingredient, the loperamide project team initially agreed not to use the European formula. However, the team subsequently decided to continue developing loperamide using the European formula because the drug would not be tested on humans unless and until the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the formula. Pierce disagreed with the team’s decision and met with Dr. Samuel Pasquale, Ortho’s executive medical director, to discuss her objections. Pierce told Pasquale that she believed continuing to work on loperamide with the saccharin formula was a violation of her Hippocratic oath to do no harm to patients because saccharin’s safety was medically debatable. Pasquale removed Pierce from the loperamide project and asked Pierce to choose other projects. However, Pierce felt like she was being demoted and ultimately resigned. Pierce then sued Ortho for wrongful discharge, alleging that Ortho had demanded that she engage in conduct that violated her Hippocratic oath and ethical principles and that contravened federal and state public-health regulations. Pierce did not allege that the loperamide testing violated any specific state or federal regulation, nor did she allege that continuing the loperamide research would violate the American Medical Association’s ethical standards or expose her to malpractice liability. The trial court granted summary judgment in Ortho’s favor, but the appellate division reversed. Ortho appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Pollock, J.)

Dissent (Pashman, J.)

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