In a legal filing, attorneys for Purdue Pharma asked a judge to authorize millions in payments to employees who have met “target performance goals.”
It is not clear from the company filings why employees would be eligible for bonuses because, while the bonuses are supposed to be partly contingent on the company’s financial performance, the company has filed for bankruptcy.
At a bankruptcy court hearing in White Plains, N.Y., on Tuesday, Paul K. Schwartzberg, an attorney for the U.S. Trustee, raised objections to some of the bonuses. While it is typical for companies in bankruptcy to try to pay employees as a firm seeks to regain its financial footing, the Purdue Pharma bonuses go “way beyond” what is typical, he said.
The company is widely blamed for fueling the opioid epidemic because of allegedly misleading sales tactics it used to push physicians to prescribe millions of doses of its OxyContin painkiller. It faces thousands of lawsuits from cities, states and others affected by the opioid crisis, which claimed more than 200,000 lives in the past two decades. The bankruptcy filing is part of a proposed legal settlement involving about 2,000 lawsuits consolidated in Ohio federal court.
“That $34 million is owed to the victims of the opioid epidemic, and every last cent should be spent on addiction science, treatment and recovery,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (D) said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Purdue and the Sacklers still don’t seem to comprehend the pain and suffering they have caused. While I am sympathetic to the workers at Purdue, many of whom live in my hometown and state and had nothing to do with the egregious actions of their employer, this not business as usual.”
The attorneys for Purdue Pharma did not specify which of its 700 employees would be eligible for the bonuses, except that the incentives would not be available to “insiders” or any top executives involved in the company’s “strategic decision-making.” But other senior managers, who are often offered such incentive plans, could be eligible for the bonuses.
The number of employees eligible for the bonuses and the amounts of their rewards are unknown. But if the $34 million in bonuses were distributed equally to each of the 700 employees, each would receive about $50,000.
Company attorneys say the incentives are needed to retain key employees as it seeks to transform itself into a public trust aimed at delivering addiction remedies. Since 2018, about a quarter of the company’s “top tier” employees have left, they said.
“These employees have highly coveted skills in the industry and the company is not an easy place to work right now,” Eli J. Vonnegut, an attorney representing Purdue Pharma, said at the bankruptcy hearing. It “would be very difficult to attract new talent were the company to lose its current employees. With all the negative publicity, many employees are concerned about the economic risks that they are taking by staying at Purdue.”
The employee bonuses are part of the company’s long-standing incentive programs, according to the company. It is asking the bankruptcy court’s permission to pay out $26.5 million under its “Annual Incentive Plan,” which covers one year of company and employee performance, and another $7.9 million under its long-term rewards plan, which covers the last three years.
Under both programs, the size of the bonuses would depend on employees’ work and the company’s performance.
The company filing described the bonuses as something that employees “have come to rely on as a part of their annual compensation.”
The company is also seeking $1.5 million a month to cover anticipated legal expenses of employees. More than 270 former employees already have been witnesses or defendants in pending litigation, the company said.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert D. Drain is expected to consider the bonuses in October.
“These people are highly compensated,” Schwartzberg said. “They can wait” until then.