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buy apple account:Exclusive: Ju0026J CEO pay irks investors upset with opioid lawsuits fallout

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Johnson & Johnson is coming under fire from some investors who are raising questions about companies that give their chief executives hefty pay raises despite facing billions of dollars in legal costs over their role in the U.S. opioid crisis.

J&J has always excluded certain one-time costs such as litigation expenses from its calculation of stock payouts to executives, an approach that compensation consultants say is common across corporate America.

It is attracting investor scrutiny now because it partially shields J&J chief executive Alex Gorsky from some $9 billion in costs over two years that have arisen from lawsuits claiming the healthcare company fueled the opioid crisis and allegations of asbestos in its talc baby powder.

Gorsky's compensation totaled $29.6 million in 2020, up 17% from the previous year. That increase faces a shareholder vote at J&J's annual general meeting on April 22, with some investors expressing displeasure, threatening to overshadow the company's role in producing a vaccine for the coronavirus and the 30% share price rise over the past year.

Such pressure has led to at least one other company involved in the opioid lawsuit settlement discussions to reconsider its position. Drug distributor Cardinal Health Inc has said it will engage with shareholders to incorporate their views in its executive compensation plan after a minority of them revolted in November against a similar executive pay structure. A Cardinal Health spokesman did not respond to questions for details on any potential compensation changes.

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, who manages the state's $38 billion investment portfolio that includes J&J shares, said the healthcare company's "significant accomplishment" in producing a COVID-19 vaccine did not give it license to insulate executives from "costs and failures that happened under their watch."

"Those foul-ups also need to be factored into the assessment," he said, referring to executive pay. He declined to say how the Illinois fund would vote. Michael Pryce-Jones, senior corporate governance analyst at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, estimates Gorsky was paid an additional $4.4 million over the last two years as a result of the compensation structure. The Teamsters, a labor union, has affiliated funds with investments in J&J.

A J&J spokeswoman declined to comment on Pryce-Jones' estimate or provide the company's figures on the impact of the litigation on Gorsky's pay. Gorsky did not respond to a request for comment.

The J&J spokeswoman said that it was the healthcare company's "longstanding and publicly disclosed practice" not to include certain non-recurring gains and expenses, such as litigation-related items, in the targets and results of its executives. Litigation items are included in the company's total shareholder return and free cash flow, which determine other aspects of executive pay, she added.

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