Thursday, May 20, 2010
Pharmaceutical giant Novartis has been ordered by a New York federal court to pay $250 million in punitive damages to a group of 5,000 former and current women employees of the drug company. The award comes after Novartis lost a gender bias lawsuit, producing the second-largest verdict of 2010.
On Wednesday, a federal jury in Manhattan found Novartis liable for discrimination and ordered it to pay $3.3 million in damages to the 12 women plaintiffs. These women are part of the Novartis’ 14,000 U.S. workers. Based in Basel, Switzerland, the company once was heralded as one of the top work environments for women by Working Woman Magazine.
One by one, women who worked at Novartis testified in court during the five week trial and told a very different story. One woman testified that her male manager suggested she have an abortion when she was pregnant. Other employees testified that they were scrutinized by the company managers while male employees were not. Another woman said she was not included in the “boy’s club” type camaraderie that took place at Novartis where executives partied with doctors at strip clubs. Still another woman testified that she was denied access to the flexible hours of the job share program after she requested to work part-time to care for her newly-adopted daughter. Jurors listened to women like Holly Walters, who described in detail being passed over for promotions because they were women. Walters told jurors that she was fired by Novartis even though she had not received any formal complaints about her performance. She says she was let go by the company when she was seven months pregnant after taking a few weeks off of work upon a doctor’s recommendation who was concerned about her health. After days in court, the jury was convinced: Novartis was guilty of discrimination.
Judge Colleen McMahon is expected to make a ruling next week on whether or not Novartis paid women employees less than men. If she decides that it has, the drug giant will be ordered to shell out even more money in compensatory damages. The company, which produces top-selling drugs like Lamisil, Theraflu and Ritalin, was ordered to pay $3.3 million to the twelve plaintiffs earlier this week. The $250 million will go to current and former employees of the company. Novartis also has been ordered by Judge McMahon to undergo thorough and on-going investigations to see if the company has changed its standards and practices in regard to women employees.