Female Sales Reps Win Case Against Novartis in Largest Gender Discrimination Case to go to Verdict

Posted May 17th, 2010.

Jury Says Pharma Giant Discriminated Against Women
Will Decide Punitive Damages Tomorrow

 For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newPRos, 201-493-1027; jamie@newspros.com

(May 17, 2010, New York City) – A New York jury handed Novartis Pharmaceuticals a bitter pill today, finding the giant drug maker guilty of gender discrimination in pay, promotional opportunities and pregnancy-related matters.  The nation-wide class of 5,600 female sales representatives earned the victory in Judge Colleen McMahon’s courtroom in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In addition to delivering a verdict for the Plaintiffs, the jury awarded the 12 testifying witnesses some $ 3.36 million in compensatory damages for the specific instances of discrimination testified to by those witnesses.  This award is just the beginning of the money that will be associated with this verdict.

In deliberations tomorrow, the jury will determine how much in punitive damages to award against the company in order to punish it for its discriminatory acts and to deter it from behaving so in the future.

Judge McMahon will determine a separate amount of class damages for the approximate 5,600 individuals in the class at a later date.  Those class damages will include back-pay damages for lost earnings.

In separate proceedings, compensatory damages will be decided for each member of the class that opts-in.  Those damages will include money for the pain and suffering caused by Novartis’ discriminatory acts.

In addition, Judge McMahon now has the opportunity to order Novartis to make changes to its policies and procedures in order to prevent future discriminatory behavior.

The class includes female sales representatives who have worked for the drug giant  between 2002 and 2007.  Thirteen of them testified during the five week trial.  The class action was originally filed in 2004. The case is Amy Velez et al., vs. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation 04 Civ. 09194. The case was the largest gender discrimination matter ever to go to trial in the U.S.

The women were represented by David Sanford, Steven Wittels and Katherine Kimpel in the New York and Washington, D.C. offices of Sanford, Wittels & Heisler LLP, and Grant Morris, of Washington, D.C.

“Today’s verdict sends a clear and powerful message to Novartis and every corporation in the United States: women are equal partners in our workforce.  The days of second-class citizenship are over.  Play by the rules or be subject to great exposure – financially and reputationally,” said David Sanford.  “This verdict is the first step in bringing about long overdue changes at Novartis and other companies that encourage or tolerate unfair treatment of women in their workplaces.  We’ll have to wait and see just how much the jury awards in punitive damages, but this is certainly a company that deserves to be punished for the way it has mistreated working women in this country.”

“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. “Novartis expected its female employees to do more than just go out and market its drugs — Novartis has a corporate culture that expects female representatives to be available and amenable to sexual advances from the doctors they call on.  Time and time again, Novartis looked the other way when female representatives complained about inappropriate doctors.  And then, to add insult to injury, Novartis paid those same women less, wouldn’t promote them into management, and punished them if they got pregnant.  Novartis refused to treat its female employees as the competent and hard-working professionals that they were and are.”

On the first day of the trial in the defense’s opening statement, Novartis’ own attorney said of an abusive male district manager, who had shown female sales reps pornography and invited them to sit on his lap, “He wasn’t that bad a manager.  He was just terrible with women.”  Novartis kept that manager on staff, actively managing women in the field, for years after it first learned of his inappropriate behavior.  Although several of Novartis’ witnesses claimed it had a “zero tolerance policy” for discrimination, those same witnesses admitted that managers were not terminated or demoted even when complaints of discrimination were substantiated by HR.

Steven Wittels said of today’s victory, “This jury has sent a message to Novartis  —- Get your house in order!  Change your culture: the ‘old boys network’ will not be tolerated. Provide your HR department with enough resources to create policies which mandate employment equity across the board, and provides training and guidance as well as people to make sure the laws are respected and followed.”

Novartis was created in 1996 through a merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz pharmaceutical companies.  Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, the company had 2009 sales of $44.3 billion.

Sanford Wittels & Heisler is a law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco that specializes in employment discrimination, wage and hour, consumer and complex corporate class action litigation and has represented thousands of individuals in some of the major class action cases in the United States. The firm also represents individual clients in employment, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower, public accommodations, commercial, medical malpractice, and personal injury matters. More information at www.sanfordheisler.com

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