Amid multiple allegations of discrimination, gender bias, and abuse, including rape, Big Pharma giant Novartis was ordered to pay $250 million in punitive damages to a group of 5,600 female employees. In May 2010, a unanimous jury verdict ordered the Swiss pharmaceutical company to pay $3.3 million in compensatory damages to 12 female former sales representatives. Among the women’s claims were that Novartis treated them unfairly because they were women, paying them less, promoting them less frequently than their male peers, and discouraging them from getting pregnant and punishing them when they did.
In testimony during the trial, former female employees stated that Novartis consistently looked the other way whenever the women complained about various physicians’ inappropriate and sexual advances towards them, claiming that Novartis actually encouraged their female sales reps to go along with the doctors’ inappropriate behaviors. In one case, a doctor allegedly stuck his tongue in a female sales rep’s ear. Another female sales rep testified that Novartis reprimanded her when a doctor client raped her after a company-sponsored event.
According to the women’s testimony, Novartis repeatedly trivialized or dismissed the female employees’ complaints because they wanted to keep these physicians (their clients) happy. Novartis claimed during the trial that the women were lying.
According to INC, the women are seeking changes to the Novartis performance appraisal system, human resources department, pay and promotion systems, and pregnancy policy.
Ironically, for the past 11 years Novartis has landed a spot on Working Mother Magazine‘s best companies list.