Novartis plaintiffs request $285M in damages

As Novartis vows to appeal a sex-discrimination verdict in U.S. court, plaintiffs' lawyers in the case are arguing for up to $285 million in punitive damages against the company. That's on top of the $3.5 million in compensation the jury already awarded the 12 women plaintiffs, who complained that the company discriminated against them by paying them less, promoting them less, and treating them poorly, especially when they were pregnant.

At the damages hearing yesterday, plaintiffs' lawyers argued that Novartis tolerated a sexist culture and looked the other way as male managers denied women equal opportunities and subjected them to a hostile work environment. Women and expert witnesses were called to testify in support of a punitive damages award of about 2 percent to 3 percent of the company's value.

"To Novartis, discrimination is one big joke," attorney David 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 lawyers, however, told jurors that the company has taken steps to discipline managers who have mistreated women, including firing one manager whose female employees complained. The company's policies prohibit discrimination, they said, and women are encouraged to move into management through a special "Women in Leadership" program. "The company is taking everything you said to heart and is going to change," Novartis lawyer Richard Schnadig said.

Novartis also said that it plans to appeal the jury's original verdict. In the meantime, the jury ended the day yesterday without reaching a decision on punitive damages.

- see the Bloomberg story
- get more from Reuters
- check out the New York Law Journal piece
- read quotes from court at WBIR