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Jury backs women in suit vs. Novartis

Bloomberg News / May 18, 2010

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NEW YORK — A Novartis AG pharmaceuticals unit discriminated against US female sales representatives and must pay $3.4 million to a dozen women, plus punitive damages, a federal jury found yesterday.

The award for lost pay and other damages came in the first stage of deliberations. The panel will decide today on punitive damages.

The decision came after a monthlong trial in a class-action lawsuit on claims of discrimination against women at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, a US unit of Europe’s second-largest drug maker. The women are part of the Swiss company’s 14,000-member US workforce. They have said they’re seeking $200 million in punitive damages.

Jurors found that Novartis discriminated against women over pay and promotion and because they got pregnant.

“Novartis has been involved in systemic discrimination since 2002,’’ said David Sanford, a lawyer for the women.

Novartis said it will appeal. “We believe the plaintiffs’ claims were unfounded,’’ it said.

One woman testified she was told by a male manager to get an abortion. Another said she was excluded from professional and social gatherings, including outings on which colleagues took doctors to strip clubs.