Novartis Sex Bias Class Action Goes To Trial In NY

Law360, New York (April 07, 2010) — Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. went to trial Wednesday to defend itself against a wide-ranging sex bias suit brought on behalf of 5,600 female sales employees.

The suit seeks $200 million in damages against Novartis and is being tried in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where jury selection began Wednesday, nearly six months after a federal judge refused to purge classwide pay discrimination claims from the case.

Judge Colleen McMahon, who is overseeing the nearly six-year-old action, issued an order detailing the trial procedure on March 31. The jury will hear issues of disparate treatment, compensatory damages for the testifying named plaintiffs and punitive damages for the class.

Meanwhile, the judge will determine classwide front and back pay awards and refer individual claims for pain and suffering to a magistrate judge.

In October, Judge McMahon denied Novartis’ motion for partial summary judgment, which the criticized the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, ruling that it was not the court’s province to insert itself between dueling experts.

Judge McMahon also granted the plaintiffs’ bid to strike a 56-page exhibit in support of NPC’s motion for summary judgment, saying the exhibit wasn’t an exhibit at all but “pure argument” that should have been included in a brief.

“The fact is, a massive amount of paper has been wasted by defendant in a quixotic quest to keep much of plaintiffs’ case from the jury,” she said. “NPC’s effort is in vain.”

Steven Wittels of Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, at the time praised Judge McMahon’s decision as one that would clear the way for 5,600 women to “have their rights vindicated” at trial.

“There was some powerful language by the court in stating that the plaintiffs have the right to try their case,” he said.

Lawyers for both sides didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The complaint, originally filed in November 2004 and most recently amended in March 2006, alleges “systemic gender discrimination,” including discriminatory policies and practices in selection, promotion and advancement; disparate pay; differential treatment; gender hostility; hostile work environment; pregnancy discrimination; sexual harassment; and retaliation.

Specifically, the fourth amended complaint alleges that a male manager asked a female job candidate when she planned on starting a family and that another male manager was physically violent toward a female sales representative.

NPC is represented by Vedder Price Kaufman & Kammholz PC.

The plaintiffs are represented by Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP and the Law Offices of Grant E. Morris Esq.

The case is Velez et al. v. Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp. et al., case number 04-9194, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

–Additional reporting by Ryan Davis and Ben James

Categories