A Novartis pharmaceuticals unit was ordered to pay a group of 5,600 female employees punitive damages of $250 million, the largest-ever employment discrimination verdict, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
A federal court jury in Manhattan on Wednesday returned the damages ruling, which was also the second-largest verdict of 2010, to punish the company for the harm to the women. The same jury on May 17 found the company liable for discrimination and ordered it to pay about $3.4 million in compensatory damages to 12 women named as plaintiffs.
The women, among the Swiss company's 14,000 workers in the U.S., sought $190 million to $285 million in punitive damages, or 2% to 3% of the company's $9.5-billion value. Jurors found that Novartis had discriminated against women over pay and promotion and because of pregnancy.
"This is a vindication of everything that has happened in the courtroom," David Sanford, a lawyer for the women, said. "This sends a message to Novartis and all other corporations in America that they cannot continue to get away with the discrimination and the systemic problems that have occurred for so long."
The Novartis award was surpassed this year only by a $505.1-million verdict by a Las Vegas jury in a lawsuit against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Baxter International Inc. Plaintiffs in that case claimed inadequate packaging of the anesthesia propofol.
"We are disappointed in the jury's verdict. For more than 10 years the company has developed and implemented policies setting high standards with regards to diversity and inclusion for the development of our employees," Andy Wyss, president of the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. unit, said in a statement.