A Victory for Female Employees at Novartis

A class-action suit that lasted five weeks in trial was decided last week in favor of female employees at the pharmaceutical company Novartis. One of the women’s lawyers described the “overwhelming” evidence of discrimination against women, especially pregnant women, in pay and promotions:

Women testified they were subject to hostile remarks, especially concerning pregnancy, and unfairly passed over for promotion in what they described as a sexist atmosphere controlled by male district managers.

More specific examples are emerging as women tell their stories to the press. One woman was told by her manager to get an abortion. Amy Velez, one of the twelve women who testified, was “passed over for promotion by men who had inferior sales numbers,” and then overheard “a manager asking recruiters if prospective employees were married or had children.” Holly Waters, a plaintiff, was fired when she was seven months pregnant, despite being the “highest-ranking sales representative in the district,” because she took time off “on advice of her doctors.” One manager reportedly “showed female co-workers pornographic images and invited them to sit on his lap.”

For at least five years, this discrimination has been devastating for the thousands of female employees at Novartis. “Loss in pay and promotions” barely begins to illustrate the extent to which this hostile work environment took its toll on these women. Waters lost not only her job but the health insurance benefits with it, at a time when comprehensive medical care was crucial. In a world where “corporate culture… expected female representatives to be available and amenable to sexual advances from the doctors they called on,” we’re contemplating a lot more in personal losses for these women than foregone income.

To that end, the New York federal court jury decided that $3.36 million dollars would be paid to the twelve testifying women, in “compensatory damages for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment in individual amounts ranging from $50,000 to nearly $600,000.”  But that’s not the end of it. Arguments about punitive damages will be made soon, and the 5,600 female employees will be able to apply for similar damages in the coming weeks.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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