Novartis Hit with $250M in Damages in Discrimination Suit

Same Manhattan jury found that drug company discriminated against women in the workplace

A jury that found drug company Novartis discriminated against women by paying them less than men, promoting fewer of them and allowing a hostile workplace awarded $250 million in punitive damages on Wednesday.

The same jury concluded Monday that Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. had discriminated against its female employees since 2002, and it awarded $3.3 million to a dozen women whose stories were outlined during the six-week trial.

Attorneys for Novartis declined to comment. The company has said it would appeal.

The plaintiffs' attorney, David Sanford, said the findings "sent a message to Novartis and all other corporations in America that they cannot continue to get away with the discrimination and the systemic problems that have gone on for so long. That day has come and we're absolutely delighted."

Sanford had sought up to $285 million in punitive damages. He said he came up with that amount by estimating that the company should have to pay 2 percent to 3 percent of the $9.5 billion in revenues it made in 2009.

"To Novartis, discrimination is one big joke," Sanford told the jury. "There was an old boys' network at Novartis running rampant. The discrimination continues to this very day. Absolutely nothing was ever done to help women at Novartis."

Novartis attorney Richard Schnadig urged the jury not to react emotionally.

"The company is taking everything you said to heart and is going to change," he promised. "Be fair to us."

The judge warned jurors not to let bias, prejudice or sympathy play a role in awarding punitive damages.

During the trial, the plaintiffs portrayed one district manager as particularly abusive, so much so that he showed women pornographic images and invited them to sit on his lap.

During his opening statement, Schnadig said the company might have been slow to investigate the claims against the manager, who was fired two years after the lawsuit was filed in 2004.

"He wasn't that bad a manager. He was just terrible with women," Schnadig said. It was a quote that the plaintiffs repeatedly reminded the jury about.

Sanford did so again Tuesday, telling jurors that Novartis "just doesn't get it. You can't be a good manager if you're terrible with women."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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