The class action lawsuit was filed by 5,600 current and former female sales representatives for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. who alleged the company discriminated against its female employees in pay, promotional opportunities and pregnancy-related issues.
“This jury learned that Novartis is not somewhere you would want your wife, your mother, your sister or your daughter to work,” said Kate Kimpel, one of the lawyers for the plaintiff, in a statement.
The jury in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York decided that Novartis engaged in a pattern of practicing discrimination, and awarded the 12 women who testified about their specific instances $3.36 million in compensatory damages.
On Tuesday, the jury will decide on the amount of punitive damages Novartis will pay to the entire 5,600-person class to punish the company and dissuade it from acting this way in the future. And a separate amount of class damages, which include back pay for lost earnings, will be determined at a later date.
The suit, filed in 2004, was brought on by females who have worked for the company between 2002 and 2007.
Kimpel said that Novartis also expected female representatives to be available and amenable to sexual advances from the doctors when they make calls.
“Time and time again, Novartis looked the other way when female representatives complained about inappropriate doctors,” Kimpel said. “Novartis refused to treat its female employees as the competent and hard-working professionals that they were and are.”
Many of the Novartis witnesses claimed the company has a “zero tolerance policy” for discrimination.
"Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation is disappointed in the jury's verdict, as we believe the plaintiffs' claims were unfounded," the company said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. "We will consider an appeal."
The company also noted that, during the time frame of the lawsuit, it was recognized for its inclusive environment.
"We are proud of the public honor and recognition we have received for the policies and programs we have in place to support the advancement of women in the sales force," the company said to the Wall Street Journal.
But, now the case judge has the ability to order Novartis to make policy and procedure changes to prevent future discriminatory behavior.
“Today’s verdict sends a clear and powerful message to Novartis and every corporation in the United States: women are equal partners in our workforce,” said David Sanford, another lawyer for the plaintiff, in a statement. “The days of second-class citizenship are over. Play by the rules or be subject to great exposure – financially and reputationally.”