How Lawsuits Against Novartis, WalMart Could Change How Women—Especially Mothers—Are Treated at Work
We’ve written about the Novartis case before, but we did a little more digging and found that the precedent-setting judgment—which could amount to company paying perhaps a billion dollars in fees—will have an even bigger impact than we thought:
The Novartis verdict is deemed precedent setting because it went far beyond simple pay discrimination. Employees alleged discrimination based on pregnancy and motherhood, too—claiming that women were fired when they were on maternity leave and mocked by superiors if they were visibly pregnant. It’s these motherhood-related allegations that may have tipped the scales to the tune of the multimillion-dollar penalty. “Juries tend to react quite strongly to discrimination against mothers,” says Joan Williams, a law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law and the director of the Center for WorkLife Law. “After all, these mothers, assuming they’re doing all that they should at work, are then being penalized at work for trying to live up to the ideals of motherhood; $250 million in damages? You had a jury that appears to have been incensed.”
The irony is that Novartis has been publicly praised for its policies toward women and families. Last year, Working Mother commended the company’s “impressive” pretax child-care accounts and said its policies strive to make life easier for parents. As employment lawyer William Martucci put it, companies are now going to have to do a great deal of “soul searching” to ensure that internal realities match up to external perceptions.
Ultimately, Martucci says that the verdict “will serve as a bellwether for others to speak out.” More important, it raises the stakes. “The notoriety of this verdict is likely to arouse greater interest both in individuals who believe they’ve been victims of discrimination, and in the plaintiff’s bar,” he says. With a judgment this large, more lawyers will be willing to take on similar cases, especially if they know that they can successfully represent a whole class, not just one individual. “It really does mean there’ll be a lot more litigation. The impact will be dramatic.”
Yeah, we think if we were on a jury and heard that pregnant employees were told, “oops, too late,” we would be pretty pissed too.
Once again, big ups to the twelve very brave ladies who brought this about. Their efforts stand to do more for working women and families than they probably ever imagined.