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$250 Million Plus: Novartis Liable in Sex Discrimination Suit

By Jason Beahm | Last updated on

A New York jury found Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation liable in a landmark sexual discrimination lawsuit on Monday. On Wednesday, the jury awarded punitive damages of $250 million. The pharmaceutical company was sued by 5,600 women who accused Novartis of discriminating against women on the basis of pregnancy, as well as paying women less than similarly experienced men.  

The jury of five women and four men awarded the punitive damages after finding against Novartis on all claims and awarding $3.3 million in compensatory damages. Prior to reaching a verdict in the month long trial, the jury deliberated for four days.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, David Sanford, successfully persuaded the jury that Novartis actively discouraged women from getting pregnant, passed over qualified women for promotion, discriminated with regard to pay and ignored sexual harassment complaints. 

Richard H. Schnadig of the defense unsuccessfully argued that the situation of each plaintiff was unique and there was no company-wide atmosphere of sexism and discrimination. He also made a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to show through statistical analysis that there was evidence of a systematic practice of sexual discrimination. Judge Colleen McMahon rejected the motion. 

Novartis released a statement contesting the verdict, which it said it intends to appeal:

Throughout our history...[we have] developed and implemented policies setting the highest standards with regards to diversity and inclusion for the development of our employees....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 case is especially noteworthy, as it is the largest (by class size) class-action gender discrimination lawsuit in which a company has been found liable. 

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