Novartis fined $250 million in gender discrimination suit

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Novartis was fined $250 million in a class action suit revealing discriminatory gender policies reminiscent of the 1950s.

A New York jury concluded in May that the Swiss pharmaceutical giant paid female sales reps less than men, punished them for taking pregnancy leave and tolerated offensive behavior in the work place.   

After finding in favor of 12 women that worked for Novartis between 2002 and 2007, and awarding them $3.3 million, the court ruled days later to distribute $250 million—or 2.6% of the company's revenues for 2009—in punitive damages to 5,600 former and current female employees.  

Plaintiffs in the case included Raelene Ryan, who worked as a sales rep for Novartis between 2001 and 2003, and testified that she was fired for becoming pregnant, under the pretenses of an accusation related to falsifying sales records.

Ryan said her manager, Jim Hansen, also made inappropriate sexual jokes and comments during a Zelnorm (tegaserod maleate) launch meeting in Florida, and at other times when the two worked together.      

Novartis disputed charges of discrimination, and Melissa Parker, a national account manager and 22-year veteran of the company, also testified in court that no systemic discrimination had occurred at the company. Novartis said it would appeal the $3.3 million verdict.

In March, Sanofi-Aventis announced that it would pay $15.4 million to settle a class action lawsuit accusing the French drugmaker of underpaying and offering fewer promotions to roughly 4,000 female sales reps.
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