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Loud, clear message to Novartis about discrimination against women

Two court cases could make a HUGE difference for women in the workforce.

On Wednesday, a jury handed a victory of $250 million in punitive damages to women at the drug company Novartis, finding the company discriminated against women by paying and promoting them less than men. That was coupled with an award of $3.3 million in compensatory damages to a dozen women.

Plaintiff lawyer David Sanford told the AP he believed the award was the largest ever from a jury in a gender discrimination case. He said the court will arrange a system so all the 5,600 women in the class-action litigation can receive up to $300,000 in a process that could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the damages.

The trail gave a pretty ugly glimpse into an all too familiar scenario. The trial featured two women currently employed by Novartis and 12 others describing their efforts to advance in a company that favored men in pay and promotion and failed to act when complaints were made. Other witnesses described an "old boys network" that punished women who became pregnant, finding ways to spoil their career, pressure them to take shorter leaves, or to work while on leave.

But this could be just the beginning of big companies paying big bucks because they discriminate against women. Wal-Mart Stores is facing an even bigger class-action lawsuit than Novartis alleging gender discrimination over pay for female workers. It could cost the world's largest private employer billion in legal damages.  

I think there's a strong message being sent by these cases - that gender discrimination is costly. Could fear of legal recourse change the corporate culture at big companies? I believe it could.  I believe we will see change ahead, especially if the women at Wal-Mart prevail. How do you think employers will react to these big lawsuits? Do you think gender discrimination goes on at your workplace? If so, would fear of lawsuits create behavior change?


(Editor's note: The corporate name, Novartis, was incorrectly spelled in a prior version of this blog post. My apologies!)