What does it take to win a certified class action case worth upwards of $600 million? According to William Dodero, it takes an unparalleled team effort and a company dedicated wholeheartedly to its mission. As vice president and assistant general counsel at Bayer, a multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company known for popular products such as Aleve and Claritin, Dodero explains the team-focused strategies and mind-set that led the company to victory in the recent One A Day class action trial.
A true Bayer veteran, Dodero has had the pharmaceutical giant as a client his entire professional life. After handling various matters for the company as an attorney at O’Connor, Cohn, Dillon, & Barr, Dodero worked his way up through senior positions at both Bayer Corporation and Bayer Healthcare.
Throughout it all, Dodero says, one of the primary things that has drawn him to the company and kept him fueled in his everyday work is “Bayer’s commitment to its mission: science for a better life, for the benefit of customers, consumers, and patients across all divisions.”
“Whether it’s the label on a product or the advertising or communications for a product, we take very special care to make sure that we are scientifically accurate, balanced, and truthful in all that we say about our products,” the VP describes. “Bayer has a long tradition and history; it’s a company that people trust. We recognize and honor that—we have legal, medical, and regulatory teams that scrutinize products, how we position them in the market, and how we communicate about them before litigation ever moves forward.”
Coming Together as a Team
That intense product scrutiny and dedication to compliance is what gave Bayer such confidence in the One A Day class action trial, Dodero says. In many, if not most litigation cases, someone has done something wrong. But Bayer knew that their teams had done everything they were supposed to.
The plaintiffs in the One A Day case claimed that Bayer had falsely advertised the health benefits of its multivitamins. But as Dodero points out, those claims comported with what the company is allowed to say under the legal framework for dietary supplements. “And, of course, we would take offense to false product claims,” he emphasizes. “We are a business that takes pride in being truthful, open, and transparent to our customers as well as in supplying quality, science-based products.”
And Bayer’s internal and external teams were “selfless” in their efforts to help Dodero and his team prove that fact, the VP says. Many people across the company went far above and beyond the normal scope of their jobs, both to support the legal team and to coordinate the complex, interdependent components of the case. As noted by Patrick Lockwood-Taylor, regional president at Bayer Consumer Health, “it was critical for us to stand up and bring the facts about our products into the light. Thanks to the excellent team effort between our consumer health division, our legal team, and external partners, we were able to do just that.”
Sarah Heineman, the lead in-house attorney on the case, further stresses that team-centric mind-set. “We were tremendously fortunate to be working alongside the consumer health team,” she says, “as they were instrumental in providing us every piece of information we needed to prepare our strategy for this litigation—from preparing the exhibits to testing our team’s approach and advising our top-notch litigation team accordingly.”
“Everybody here is so focused on honoring our mission and the science-based foundation behind what we do—we just tried to bring that out.”
Strategies for Success
Bayer’s internal teams did not take on the weight of the One A Day trial case by themselves, Dodero notes. “The Sidley Austin team, led by Jon Cohn, did amazing work in the discovery phase and built a great foundation for the trial, extracting key concessions from plaintiffs’ lead expert. Alex Walsh and Sean Eskovitz together with their full team at Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz team then executed a flawless trail strategy, cross-examining the plaintiffs and their experts, as well as presenting our scientific position explained by my colleague and trial witness, Nastaran Faghihnia,” he enthuses. “It is my greatest honor to be a part of such a total team effort.”
“Bill provided incisive strategic input and extraordinary support at every step of the One A Day litigation,” says Sean Eskovitz and Alexandra Walsh, founding partners of Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz LLP. “Above all, Bill had the courage of his convictions to take the case to trial—and let us rest on the strength of our cross examinations without calling a single defense witness. Bill knew, based on his years of trial experience, that those were the right calls for the litigation.”
Dodero believes leading a high-performing team means giving them space to explore and take the lead in their own areas of expertise—as well as space to criticize. “I like to say around the office that, ‘I want to be told I am wrong at least three times a day,’” Dodero says. “If you tell me I’m wrong, that means we have an open line of communication that doesn’t depend on hierarchy or titles. It also means we are going to get the best of everybody’s views, and we don’t wait for disaster before we say it’s going wrong.” During the One A Day trial, Dodero says, that culture of open discussion was critical to helping him and his in-house team develop their legal strategy.
A strategy that paid off, by all accounts—the jury for the One A Day class action case spoke emphatically in favor of Bayer. But that decision, Dodero notes, was important to more than Bayer itself.
“That case could have started a cascade that called into question both our product and the entire dietary supplement industry, opening the floodgates for similar cases in future,” he says. “But we stayed true to what our products do, and don’t do. Everybody here is so focused on honoring our mission and the science-based foundation behind what we do—we just tried to bring that out.”