After finding Novartis liable for wide-spread sex discrimination, the same jury returned a $250 million punitive damages verdict to the class of victims in the Novartis sex discrimination case. The jury announced its award on May 20, after hearing argument and evidence on the company’s worth. The 5,600 class members will be entitled to be heard on the scope of each of their damages. In these situations, the court appoints a special master to administer the pooled fund. In addition, these class members (other than the 12 plaintiffs represented originally in the six week trial) will also be entitled to seek their own compensatory damages, which are based on emotional distress. The judge may also award more back pay damages; $37 million is being sought.
Of course, that assumes that this verdict is final, and that is a lot to assume. Simply by virtue of the verdict’s size, Novartis is sure to appeal it. Many punitive damages awards have been reversed or, more commonly, reduced. A reduction could happen at the trial court level, as lawyers file post-trial motions complaining of the conduct of the trial, the size of the verdict, and various evidentiary issues. This dispute will probably take a few more years to resolve completely. Yet, for the women who have been waiting for as long as eight years, the announced verdict itself must be a victory, and changes at Novartis are a virtual certainty.
The case is Velez v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 04 Civ. 9194, in the Southern District of New York.