A New York court has awarded $250million (£174m) against drug giant Novartis for discriminating against female employees in the largest case of its kind.
Some 5,600 women will share the money as compensation for 'systemic gender discrimination', which included pregnant employees being encouraged to have an abortion.
A judge has already awarded a dozen of the women payouts between $3.3million and $50,000 in what is the largest ever lawsuit for sex discrimination in the U.S.
Novartis headquarters in Basel, Switzerland - the drug company that has been ordered to pay out its female employees who were discriminated against
The remainder will now go before a judge who will hear their testimony and decide on a case-by-case basis how much they will receive.
Novartis said it would appeal but David Sanford, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said the jury's decision 'sent a message' to the company and other firms that discrimination will not be tolerated.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of female sales representatives and junior managers who worked for Novartis since 2002.
Mr Sandford said they had been overlooked for promotion, discriminated against if they became pregnant and had 'paid the price for a corporate culture that condones treating women with gender hostility'.
Novartis was characterised as being like an old boys' club and a series of appalling case studies outlined how women workers were picked on.
Mr Sandford explained that one manager showed female co-workers pornographic images and invited them to sit on his lap.
One boss said he did not hire females because 'first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes flex time and a baby carriage.'
Company trainers urged employees not to get pregnant and one told a female worker who was expecting: 'Oops, too late.'
Another employee was disciplined for poor sales while on official leave for the birth of her twins. Others were told they could not go on management courses when they became pregnant.
The jury at Manhattan's Federal Court was told about the case of Holly Waters, a sales rep who was one of the best in the team and recognised as such by her boss.
That all changed when she told him she was expecting - he began punishing her for taking sick days for severe morning sickness and wrongly accused her of falsifying sales calls.
With no chance to defend herself, she was fired and lost her health insurance and benefits at a time when she was seven months pregnant.
'To Novartis, discrimination is one big joke,' Mr Sanford told the jury.
'There was an old boys' network at Novartis running rampant. The discrimination continues to this very day. Absolutely nothing was ever done to help women at Novartis.'
In advance of their ruling, Novartis attorney Richard Schnadig urged the jury not to react emotionally. 'The company is taking everything you said to heart and is going to change,' he said.
Next week a judge could order Novarties to make additional payments and demand 'injunctive relief', which would force the firm to take steps to end discrimination.
Mr Sanford had sought up to $285million in punitive damages. He said he came up with that amount by estimating that the company should have to pay two to three per cent of the $9.5billion in revenues it made in 2009.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1279739/Drug-company-Novartis-ordered-pay-250million-damages-sex-discrimination.html#ixzz0oQ97fKoY
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