A federal judge has granted class-action status to a lawsuit accusing Abbott Laboratories Inc. of cheating older workers out of retirement benefits when it spun off its hospital equipment business in 2004.
The ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman allows the suit to cover all Abbott employees laid off between Aug. 22, 2003 -- the date the Hospira Inc. spinoff was announced -- and April 30, 2004. Also included are Hospira employees who were eligible to retire from Abbott when their jobs were eliminated.
The plaintiffs claim North Chicago, Ill.-based Abbott, a manufacturer of pharmaceutical and medical products, spun off the unit containing many of its older workers because they were near to claiming rich retirement benefits from Abbott.
The complaint was initially brought by three former Abbott employees -- who sued both Abbott and Hospira in 2004. They are represented by Sprenger & Lang PLLC and Meites, Mulder, Burger & Mollica, who announced the ruling in a press release Wednesday.
Attorney Steven Sprenger estimated that the number of former employees now eligible to participate in the suit may exceed 10,000.
Abbott has said the spinoff resulted solely from its desire to let the two units focus separately on their distinct markets.
''Allegations that Hospira was created for any other purpose are unfounded and without merit,'' Abbott said in a statement when the suit was filed.
Abbott shares rose 10 cents to $39.65 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock fell 8 percent in 2005.
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