In this day and age, many of us believe that men and women have equal rights at work, but this is not always the case, as demonstrated by the result of a gender discrimination class action against Novartis. In a unanimous verdict delivered earlier this week, a New York (USA) jury found the drug giant guilty of discriminating against women in pay, promotional opportunities and pregnancy-related matters.
The class involved 5600 women and is the largest gender discrimination matter to ever go to trial in the US, according to a press statement from Sanford Wittels & Heisler law firm. Novartis has been told to pay $250 million in punitive damages to the women involved in the class, as well as $3.36 million in compensatory damages to twelve testifying witnesses — all former sales representatives of Novartis.
According to testimonies, Novartis had a corporate culture that expected its female employees to be “available and amenable to sexual advances from the doctors they call on” and “looked the other way” when female representatives complained about inappropriate doctors. Additionally, women were apparently paid less, not promoted into management and punished if they became pregnant.
Several of Novartis’ witnesses claimed that the company had a “zero tolerance policy” for discrimination; however, the witnesses also admitted that managers were not terminated or demoted even when discrimination complaints were substantiated by human resources.
In a press statement released by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., a US subsidiary of Novartis AG, the company said it was “disappointed” in the verdict. According to third party reports from Bloomberg, The New York Times and swissinfo.ch, the company plans to appeal the verdict.