Anti-Trust Lawsuit Turns Into Gay Legal Rights Battle


In a surprising twist, a massive antitrust case between two pharmaceutical corporations has morphed into a debate with implications on gay rights. The controversy arose after lawyers representing one of the companies removed a juror because he was gay.

The case is between Abbot Laboratories and SmithKlineBeecham concerning dueling AIDS drugs released by the two companies. It is being heard in San Francisco by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2007, shortly prior to SmithKlineBeecham’s release of a new AIDS drug, Abbot raised the price of Norvir, a widely prescribed and successful AIDS treatment, by 400%. SmithKlineBeecham’s treatment was intended to be co-prescribed with Norvir, so the cost increase significantly raised their drug’s cost to patients. In the suit, SmithKlineBeecham argues that Abbot deliberately increased Norvir’s cost to damage their treatment’s success. SmithKlineBeecham attorneys argued that this move violated antitrust laws.

However, the antitrust issue has been sidelined following the removal of “Juror B”, a homosexual man, from the jury. SmithKlineBeecham alleges that the juror’s removal was due to his sexual orientation.

Abbot, however, denies these charges. It claims that its reasons for removing Juror B did not involve his sexuality. Abbot lawyers outlined three reasons for removing the juror: he had heard of Norvir, worked in the legal system, and had friends who had died of AIDS. He was the only juror in the prospective juror pool who had these characteristics.

The Norvir price jump was already a cause of considerable consternation in the LGBT community. Because it was so widely prescribed and effective, many felt the increase amounted to price gouging. The allegation that SmithKlineBeecham bounced a juror for his homosexuality has further angered the community.

Removing a juror for his sexuality has potential legal implications. Lawyers may use preemptory challenges to remove jurors before trials begin. This process does not require legal arguments, though there are limitations. Race-based juror removal has been banned since a 1986 Supreme Court ruling. However, there is no current precedent for sexuality-based juror removal.


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