Novartis Employees Awarded $250 Million in Gender Bias Lawsuit

BY khenry  May 19, 2010 at 3:52 PM EST

Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG must pay $250 million in punitive damages after a federal jury in New York found the company consistently discriminated against its female employees.

The ruling marks the largest-ever employment discrimination verdict, according to Bloomberg data. The judgment accounts for 2.6 percent of the company’s $9.5 billion 2009 revenue.

The damages will be awarded to 5,600 current and former sales representatives and entry-level managers who joined a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of discriminating against them for pay and promotion and because of pregnancy. The women had sought between $190 million and $285 million in damages.

On Monday, the same jury awarded $3.3 million to 12 women who testified during the six-week trial, after concluding that Novartis had discriminated against its female employees since 2002.

Among the claims made by the plaintiffs, one former sales representative testified that managers began questioning her work performance and a supervisor blamed her after she reported being raped by a doctor during a company outing.

Attorney David Sanford, who represented the Novartis employees, said his clients were delighted with the ruling:

“This verdict is the first step in bringing about long overdue changes at Novartis and other companies that encourage or tolerate unfair treatment of women in their workplaces.”

Novartis’s U.S. pharmaceutical division said it “strongly disputes” the claims and plans to appeal the ruling. Andy Wyss, head of Pharma North America and President of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, wrote in the statement:

“We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict. For more than ten years the company has developed and implemented policies setting high standards with regards to diversity and inclusion for the development of our employees.”