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July 19, 2010

One of the Largest Gender Discrimination Cases…Ever

Filed under: General HR Buzz — Tags: , 12:41 pm

In one of the largest gender discrimination verdicts, a jury awarded $3.4 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages against Novartis, a huge pharmaceutical company.  And, the case is not over, as additional back pay damages could reach $1 billion.

The case involved female sales representatives who worked for the company from 2002 to 2007.  They alleged that there was a continuing “pattern and practice of discrimination,” that women were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment and that discrimination existed surrounding pregnancy leave, promotion of women, and compensation. Plaintiffs also shared comments by managers who indicated that they preferred not to hire young women, that women shouldn’t get pregnant early in their employment, and they made explosive sexual harassment allegations. The lawsuit began in 2004….imagine the legal fees on top of the damages!

A lot can be learned from this case.  Even though sex discrimination has been illegal since 1964 and sexual harassment since the early 1980’s, the problems haven’t gone away.

Sexual harassment and equal employment opportunity training, and effective policy implementation, are as important as ever.  Perhaps they’re even more important as women comprise 50% of the workforce now and society is much more litigious than it was in 1964. Class action suits have gotten bigger and considerably more expensive lately. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 has made it much easier for employees to bring wage discrimination claims.

It’s old news but it’s still true: employers must continually review their policies and practices (e.g., hiring, promotion, compensation programs, etc.) to ensure they aren’t discriminatorily applied and they need to regularly train their managers. No matter how enlightened organizations are regarding discrimination issues, there will always be problem managers and problem employees.  The goal is to minimize those risks as much as possible.

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