Not if the women in question find themselves stuck in a pink-collar ghetto.
That, at least, seems to be a take-away from this week's ruling that Novartis Pharmaceuticals -- a regular on Working Mother magazine's "100 Best Companies to work for" -- must pay $250 million in punitive damages for discriminating against female sales representatives.
The jury decision for the class-action case opens the door to additional compensatory damages, which some reports have estimated could run as high as $1 billion. The jury awarded $3.3 million in compensatory damages to the 12 women who testified, but there are nearly 5,600 others who fall into the covered class.
In a Reuters piece that appeared in yesterday's New York Times, the president of Working Mother Media was quoted as saying that the magazine's criteria for its award relied on programs such as flextime, telecommuting, and paid maternity leave.
On its website, here's what Working Mother says "we love" about Novartis:
Being there for the kids isn’t the only reason this East Hanover, NJ–based pharmaceutical company offers its employees flexible schedules. “I’ve used my arrangements to allow more time for friendships, community activities, fitness and personal interests,” says mom Laurie Letvak, an MD who serves as global program head for its Glivac and Tasigna division and now compresses her weeks after years as a part-time worker. Jobsharers, telecommuters and other flex fans can rely on the firm’s easily customizable child-care offerings, including discounts on fulltime care at national chains with budget-friendly backup (just $15 to $25 per day) and in-home sick care ($5 per hour). Impressively, anyone who saves $4,000 in a pretax child-care account is gifted another $1,000 by the company. Summer camp fairs and college coaching programs help make life a little easier for the parents of older kids.Which is all well and good ... except that the lawsuit claimed Novartis systematically discriminated against women in pay and promotion, and was especially discriminatory against women who got pregnant.
As Ann Woolner notes caustically in her article for Bloomberg Businessweek, "You can't keep the numbers up when you're out on maternity leave, and forget about staying on a management track."
"Women who sold pharmaceuticals for Novartis said that some of the doctors to whom they would pitch products expected something on the side. They groped, they propositioned, and one fellow stuck his tongue in the ear of a startled sales rep," Woolner reports.
The support that the women reps got from the company was less than stellar: "When one of the women complained, her supervisor, also a woman, reminded her that the physicians she saw were valuable to Novartis."
I think we can take that to mean that sales reps were not valuable.
The jury's verdict is one of the largest ever in a gender discrimination case.
Abigail Field at Daily Finance, following Susan Beck at Am Law Litigation Daily, thinks that might be because the jury realized that Novartis, and its lawyers, "just didn't get it." They both note that, in Field's words, the "defense's closing argument was laced with sexist stereotypes and must have left jurors with the impression that the company really didn't respect women." (Field's article is here; Beck's, which requires premium subscription to access, is here.)
That Novartis "didn't get it" may be one reason why the company chose not to settle out of court, as is more typical. (Or it could just be that, in comparison to Novartis' core net income in 2009 of $10.3 billion, $250 million doesn't sound like much.)
Among the most damning "dont' get it" quotes from the closing argument of Richard Schandig, a partner with Vedder Price: "I've never seen anybody cry so much on the witness stand in my life ... She didn't have very much to cry about ... It's like she had been knifed. Honestly. What was wrong with this woman? She was so fragile."
Best of all, Schandig referred to one witness as "that little blond that came up here from Texas."
No, this wasn't last week's episode of Mad Men. It was, maybe, a reminder that we still have a long way to go.