Novartis penalised $250 million for gender bias against women

A US jury ruled yesterday that the US unit of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG must pay $250 million in punitive damages to 5,588 current and former female employees for discriminating against them at work.

The same jury had ordered the Basel-based drugmaker on Monday to pay $3.3 million in compensatory damages to 12 female employees for discriminating against them since 2002 after they had testified during the six-week trial.

With the jury awarding $3.3 million to the 12 female employees, the other 5,588 women will also file claim for compensatory damages.

The women fighting the case are all sales representatives and entry-level managers who have worked for Novartis since 2002 and complained that that they were paid less compared to male employees and denied the same promotions given to male employees, among other misconduct.

One female employee testified that her male manager asked her to get an abortion done, while another said that she was excluded from professional and social gatherings.

David Sanford, a lawyer representing the female employees had sought between $190 million and $285 million in punitive damages - representing about 2 to 3 per cent of the company's 2009 revenue of $9.5 billion.