In letter to employees, Alcon chief defends company’s culture for women

Jeff George is the top executive at Alcon in Fort Worth.
Jeff George is the top executive at Alcon in Fort Worth. Alcon

Jeff George, the global head of Fort Worth-based Alcon Labs, has sent a internal letter to employees fiercely defending the company after two female former employees filed a federal suit against the eye-care company alleging gender discrimination.

“I would like to reiterate my own personal as well as Alcon’s deep commitment to equal employment opportunities for all employees and to preventing any form of discrimination,” George wrote.

In their suit, Elyse Dickerson and Susan Orr allege Alcon with fostering a “boys’ club” atmosphere that “is hostile to women and their advancement.” Alcon and Novartis are named defendants in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, near where Alcon’s parent, Novartis, has its U.S. headquarters,

In the letter, George said Alcon “strongly disputes the allegations” and that the company “will vigorously defend ourselves in litigation.”

“We do not tolerate any form of harassment or discrimination, and these allegations are not a reflection of Alcon’s culture,” George said in the letter, sent anonymously to the Star-Telegram.

The company issued a statement to the media on the day the suit was filed, saying Alcon disagreed with the allegations and is committed to equal employment opportunity for all employees.

In the letter to employees, George said that Alcon has made progress since 2013 when it introduced some diversity programs designed at increasing the number of women in leadership roles.

The lawsuit disputes that, stating that women make up less than 15 percent of vice presidents and senior directors at Alcon, headquartered off Interstate 35 and Altamesa Boulevard in south Fort Worth.

Dickerson is seeking $10 million and her job back under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging pay discrimination, illegal retaliation and unlawful discharge. She worked for Alcon since 2002 until her “retaliatory termination” in January.

George does make reference to Dickerson in his letter, although not by name, telling Alcon associates that she was fired for “serious violations” of the Novartis Code of Conduct and other internal policies. He was not more specific.

Orr is seeking $100 million for herself and other women who held director-level positions at Alcon and who could join the lawsuit. Orr alleges that Novartis and Alcon violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended by the Equal Pay Act of 1963, for equal pay for equal work. She, too, is suing for pay discrimination.

Novartis acquired Alcon, a producer of eye-care surgical products and pharmaceuticals, in 2011.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST