Jury finds against Novartis in gender-bias case

A federal jury in Manhattan has found that Novartis Pharmaceuticals discriminated against female sales representatives in the U.S. and must pay $3.4 million in compensatory damages to a dozen women plus punitive damages.

In its fifth day of deliberations, the jury of four men and five women determined the company engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination by paying its female sales force less than its male employees and denying them the same opportunities for promotions, NASDAQ reports.

More than 5,600 women make up the class that was suing Novartis and included female sales representatives and entry-level managers who worked at the company since 2002, according to an April 7 statement issued by Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.

The complaint detailed specific discriminatory incidents as the basis for the female employees' complaints, including a Novartis manager encouraging an employee to get an abortion and a manager stating a preference not to hire females because "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes flex time and a baby carriage," the law firm says in the statement.

David Sanford, a lawyer for the women, told jurors in his May 10 closing arguments that the company "tolerated a culture of gender discrimination in pay, and promotion, tolerated a culture of sexism, a boys' club atmosphere," Bloomberg says. But Richard Schnadig, a lawyer for the company, told jurors at the end of the trial that the "fair, decent, responsive company" sought to advance the careers of women and took firm steps against mistreatment. He added that the case lacks merit.

Novartis says in a statement that it is disappointed in the verdict and plans to appeal, according to Bloomberg. "We believe the plaintiffs' claims were unfounded," the company said, adding that it has been "recognized for its commitment to an inclusive environment."

- see the law firm's release
- read Bloomberg's coverage
- check out NASDAQ's report