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Novartis sex discrimination trial begins

Drugmaker Novartis has begun standing trial in a sex discrimination suit brought on by 5,600 female sales representatives who say they were denied promotions and equal pay.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs on Thursday acknowledged to a jury at a federal court in Manhattan the Swiss company has extensive written materials warning against discrimination but accused it of "saying one thing on paper but another thing in real life".

Attorney Katherine Kimpel said women hired since 2002 at Novartis’s United States arm entered a company that disrespected and undermined its female workers and that it was at times a hostile workplace dominated by an "old boys network."

Basel-based Novartis is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Its 2009 revenues were $44.27 billion (SFr47.69 billion).

Novartis lawyer Richard Schnadig said the company does not discriminate against women and there was no glass ceiling.

"This is a fair, decent, responsive company that has been sensitive to women's' needs," he said. "We don't discriminate ... the company makes no claims that we're perfect."

Schnadig said the company might have been a little slow in investigating the claims against a particular manager, who was fired two years after the lawsuit was filed in 2004.

"He was an embarrassment to the company," Schnadig said. "He's gone. We're glad he's gone."

Schnadig added: "He wasn't that bad a manager. He was just terrible with women."

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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