Jury Finds Novartis Liable for Female Employee Discrimination Complaints

U.S. District Court orders Novartis to pay damages to former female employees.

May 18, 2010 — -- A drug company lauded for being one of the best places to work for mothers has been found guilty of discriminating against female employees, paying them less than their male counterparts and denying them promotions.

The U.S. District Court on Monday ordered the New Jersey-based Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. to pay $3.3 million in compensatory damages to 12 women who claimed in court that the company treated them unfairly because they were women and, in some cases, because they got pregnant.

Today, the court is set to determine how much in the company is responsible for in punitive damages.

The rest of the 5,600 female sales employee who are part of the class action lawsuit can now also file individual claims for damages.

The drug company is best known for its products like Lamisil, Ritalin and Theraflu.

Novartis has been at the top of several publications "best employers" lists, noteably that of Working Mother magazine which has included the company on its 100 Best Companies list for the past four years.

In the October 2009 issue of Working Mother, Novartis was praised for its job-sharing programs and "customizable child-care offerings."

But at least one mother involved in the class action suit claimed that she was told she was not "eligible" for the job-share program after she requested to work part-time to allow her time to bond with her recently adopted daughter.

Another plaintiff said that women felt they were "scrutinized" about their child care arrangements by managers, whereas male employees were not.

Female Employees Testify Against Former Employer Novartis

One of the plaintiffs, Holly Waters, argued in court documents that she was not only paid less than her male equivalents at Novartis, but was fired when she was seven months pregnant after taking a few weeks off on advice of her doctors who were concerned about her condition.

At the time of her firing, Waters "did not have low rankings or sales numbers. In fact, she was the highest-ranking sales representative in the district for all of her products," according to the court documents.

In a written statement, Novartis pushed back against Monday's ruling, saying that the company is "disappointed in the jury's verdict and the $3.3 million award to the plaintiffs," calling the claims "unfounded" and vowing to appeal.

"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," said the statement.

The lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case were not immediately available for comment, but told The Associated Press that the verdict was "long overdue."

"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 lead attorneys on the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.