CHICAGO — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a "whistleblower" who claimed she was fired for telling the federal government that her former employer, Mead Johnson, was not disclosing defects in infant formula.
The case of O’Risky v. Mead Johnson Nutrition Co. (MJN) was filed in the Northern District of Illinois by Linda O’Risky, the company's former director of global product compliance.
O’Risky began working in research and development for Mead Johnson in 1990. In 2013, she became director of global product compliance.
“In this role, O’Risky had responsibility for conducting internal auditing for quality, food safety, and regulatory compliance at MJN’s facilities," Judge Sarah Ellis said in her decision.
In 2015, O’Risky filed an anonymous internal complaint raising concerns about food safety issues, court documents said. She alleged there were sealing defects in the manufacture of 8 oz. infant formula products. She called MJN’s Integrity Concern Compliance and, shortly after, MJN started an investigation.
O’Risky was eventually identified as the source of the Integrity Concern Compliance complaint.
The court documents said her co-workers then made "life at work more difficult” for O'Risky. She allegedly was told not to apply for a vice president of quality position because she allegedly was told she challenged her supervisor too much. She allegedly was also told to stop investigating the infant formula seal concerns.
O’Risky was eventually laid off from her job.
O’Risky filed suit alleging retaliation under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (DFA) and Illinois common law. It marked the first time that such a lawsuit has been brought under new federal food safety rules. The FSMA, signed into law in 2011, focuses on preventing food contamination, rather than responding to issues after they are discovered, as the FDA had typically done in the past.
Mead Johnson moved to dismiss the complaint under the DFA and Illinois common law, challenging "the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits," according to Ellis.
Ellis then dismissed the Illinois action, concluding Indiana was the proper venue. Unlike Illinois, Indiana does not recognize a common law claim for whistleblower retaliation. The judge said the plaintiff erred in suing under Illinois law when she was actually located in Indiana and should have sued under federal law. Based in Indiana, she only spent 10 to 15 percent of her work time at company headquarters in north suburban Glenview.