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Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP | 20th Anniversary 2004 - 2024

Two Global Directors Of Novartis And Alcon File Individual And Collective Gender Discrimination Case

Posted March 17th, 2015.


NEW YORK, March 17, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — David Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP, today filed a Title VII and Equal Pay Act case against the pharma giant Novartis and its Alcon division. Sanford Heisler Kimpel filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit seeks $110 million, company-wide changes to redress gender discrimination, and individual relief.

In a case very similar to the case being brought today against Alcon, a Sanford Heisler Kimpel team led by Mr. Sanford prevailed in a 6-week gender discrimination trial against another Novartis division in May 2010. That trial culminated in a $253 million verdict against Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation. The verdict remains the largest monetary award ever imposed by a jury in a gender discrimination case.

“As a result of our 2010 verdict, Novartis has done great things to improve the workplace conditions at Novartis Pharmaceuticals. But as this case demonstrates, there is considerable work to be done to ensure that female employees in the Alcon division receive equal treatment,” Mr. Sanford said.

Mr. Sanford continued: “Novartis bought Alcon soon after the verdict against Novartis Pharmaceuticals came down. Now, it’s time for the Alcon division to receive the same degree of oversight and change that was imposed on Novartis Pharmaceuticals.”

Plaintiffs Elyse Dickerson and Dr. Susan Orr

The plaintiffs in the Complaint are Fort Worth resident Elyse Dickerson, on behalf of herself, and Pennsylvania resident Dr. Susan Orr, on behalf of herself and similarly situated women at in the Alcon division who also experienced gender discrimination.

The two plaintiffs were both Global Directors in Novartis’s Alcon division. Ms. Dickerson and Dr. Orr were among the Alcon division’s most talented and ambitious professionals. Despite their distinguished performance, Novartis and its Alcon division discriminated against them by paying them less than males in similar positions, giving them less favorable work assignments and career-enhancing opportunities, and denying them promotions in favor of men in similar positions. Both women characterize Alcon as having a “boy’s club” environment and mentality hostile to women and their careers.

Ms. Dickerson began working at Alcon in 2002. Following years of Novartis and Alcon paying her less than her male colleagues and depriving her of the career-enhancing opportunities it routinely afforded to men, Ms. Dickerson began to advocate more strongly for equal employment opportunities for women at the Company. She filed a Charge of Discrimination against Novartis and Alcon before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August 2014.

In violation of federal law, Novartis and Alcon retaliated against Ms. Dickerson for her complaints of gender discrimination, downgrading her performance ratings and ultimately terminating her employment in January 2015, while she was on federally protected medical leave. The illegal termination took place just over two weeks before some $750,000 of Ms. Dickerson’s Novartis stock grants were scheduled to vest.

Dr. Orr began her employment with Alcon in 1997, where she initially worked in the R&D division and was the initiator and a primary driver of the acquisition of a potential blockbuster drug for Novartis.  Despite Dr. Orr’s distinguished service, the Company denied her opportunities for advancement, excluded her from consideration for numerous promotions and passed her over in favor of less qualified males. Dr. Orr was also paid less than similarly-situated male employees, who received higher base salaries, higher bonuses, and more stock equity grants than Dr. Orr did for performing similar work. Because of the lack of promotional opportunities and the unequal pay, Dr. Orr resigned from the Company on April 2, 2014.

Plaintiffs’ Claims and Relief Sought

Ms. Dickerson sues on her own behalf. Her individual claim cites Novartis’s and Alcon’s violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for pay discrimination, a course of illegal retaliation, and unlawful discharge.

Dr. Orr sues on her own behalf and on behalf of similarly situated women who held director-level positions in Novartis’s Alcon division. Dr. Orr’s collective action claim cites Novartis’ and Alcon’s violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended by the Equal Pay Act of 1963, for denial of equal pay for equal work. Dr. Orr also brings an individual claim that faults Novartis and Alcon for pay discrimination in violation of Title VII.

Ms. Dickerson requests a judgment in excess of $10 million; Dr. Orr requests a judgment in excess of $100 million for herself and members of the collective action. In addition, the case seeks a declaration that Novartis’ and Alcon’s discriminatory employment decisions, policies, practices and procedures are unlawful and a permanent injunction to prevent the companies from engaging in further unlawful behaviors.

Dr. Orr also requests that the Court issue notice to all female employees who held director-level positions in Novartis’s Alcon division, so that they can assert timely EPA claims by joining the collective action.

In addition to David Sanford, the Sanford Heisler Kimpel team representing Dickerson and Orr includes Jeremy Heisler and Alexandra Harwin in its New York City office, and Felicia Medina from the firm’s San Francisco office.

A jury trial is requested.

About Sanford Heisler Kimpel, LLP

Sanford Heisler Kimpel, LLP is a public interest class-action litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, and San Francisco. Our attorneys have graduated from the nation’s top law schools, clerked for judges throughout the United States, and amassed extensive experience litigating cases that have earned over one billion dollars for our clients.

The Firm specializes in civil rights and general public interest cases, representing plaintiffs with employment discrimination, labor and wage violations, predatory lending, whistleblower, consumer fraud, and other claims. Along with a focus on class actions, SHK also represents individuals and has achieved particular success in the representation of executives in employment disputes.

For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos, 646-791-4848, [email protected]