SANTA ANA — ICN Pharmaceuticals Inc. has asked an Orange County court for an order permitting the company to fire a female employee who accused its controversial chairman of sexual harassment.
ICN wants to fire Michelle McKenney--the sixth woman at ICN in the last five years to allege sexual harassment--because it says there is no work for her.
But the company wants a court's permission to protect itself from any claim that her termination is in retaliation for her lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court.
The company's lawsuit "is something I've never seen before," said Philip E. Kay, a San Francisco lawyer for McKenney. "This issue would have to be decided in our suit anyway."
He said he would expect the cases to be consolidated because both arise out of the same circumstances. But ICN's lawyer, Bernard I. Segal of Los Angeles, disagreed.
"Her lawsuit bears on what happened in the past; we're talking about the future," he said. "Hopefully, our case can be determined quickly on its own merits without getting enmeshed in her case."
McKenney's lawsuit alleges that Chairman Milan Panic and ICN retaliated against her by demoting her from investor relations manager in ICN's Costa Mesa headquarters to secretary in an Irvine facility.
ICN said in its suit, filed Thursday, that she was removed from the investor relations job because the company decided to eliminate the office and hire an outside firm.
ICN argues in its complaint that McKenney also was no longer needed because the executive for whom she worked had quit to join a competitor. Her remaining duties could be assumed by current employees, the company said.
McKenney's lawsuit is the fourth sexual harassment and discrimination suit filed against Panic. Two other women filed harassment claims with the state, a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit, but settled short of a lawsuit or never brought a public action, according to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.