You might have heard that Novartis was hit with a $253.3 million judgment this week in a discrimination suit filed by 12 former female sales reps who claimed they were discriminated against, harassed and turned down for promotions. The sexist activities go back to 2002 and while the suit was won by 12 women, there are 5,600 other female employees of the US subsidiary who have time to file their claims.
You might have also heard that Novartis was named last year by Working Mother magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies For Working Mothers. You can read about it on Working Mother’s site or on Novartis’ home page, top of the fold.
Hmmmm. Is there a disconnect here? On the one hand, companies (and people) win awards all the time and then skeletons come falling out of the closet. There is only so much due diligence awards juries can undertake. But this particular juxtaposition is unfortunate, in which we have a women’s interest magazine awarding a company that for more than 7 years has been paying the saleswomen less than their male counterparts, male managers were accusing many of the women of lying about doctors’ appointments and they were repeatedly overlooked for promotions.
In Novartis’ defense, if given the award by Working Mother it’s unlikely one would advise the company to turn it down and come clean about its treatment to at least one sector of female employees (the sales force). Or should it have turned it down, knowing that the lawsuit was active?
It also appears that Novartis’ management training program could also use some fine-tuning.
During the trial in Manhattan District Court this week, Richard Schnadig, Novartis’ attorney, conceded that one of the male managers should have been fired sooner than the two years after the lawsuit was filed. He was fired in 2004; the lawsuit was filed in 2002. That said, Schnadig did defend this ex-employee to the jury by noting: “He wasn’t that bad a manager. He was just terrible with women.” Now, that’s a sound bite the media can’t make up.
– Diane Schwartz