Novartis verdict ushers in new gender-bias era

If there's any take-away from the $250 million sex-discrimination ruling against Novartis, it's this: Policies aren't enough.

Legal experts say that the record-setting jury verdict came in a "second generation" gender bias case. In the first generation of this type of case, well-written and distributed policies were enough, but these days it's all about enforcement. Companies have to show that they're making sure their managers follow through on stated policies. "This is a case about walking the walk," said Gary Friedman, a parter with Weil Gotshal & Manges' employment litigation practice (as quoted by Portfolio).

So while Novartis might have had a special program for grooming women managers--and may have fired an egregiously sexist manager in response to employee complaints--the jury didn't see those actions as adequate.

What's next for Novartis? The company issued a statement saying it "strongly disputes" claims that it routinely discriminated against female employees. Regardless, the verdict is a public relations blow, so the company will doubtless be taking steps to regain its reputation as a great place for women to work. (Some changes may be forced by a ruling the lawsuit plaintiffs are seeking from the presiding judge in the case.)

The verdict is expected to have an effect on other companies, too, the Wall Street Journal reports. One legal expert called the ruling a "game changer" and predicted more lawsuits--and more settlements. "It should clearly cause the employer community to sit up and look at its potential exposure in this area," Mike Delikat, an employment lawyer, told the Journal. Stay tuned.

- get the analysis at Portfolio
- see the Reuters news
- read the Novartis response at MarketWatch
- check out the Bloomberg article
- find the WSJ Law Blog post