Legal Briefing: Novartis Sex Discrimination Trial Begins


A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

Novartis: A Great Place for Working Moms, Or a Horrible One?

Every year from 2000 to 2009, Working Mother magazine included Novartis (NVS) on its list of the 100 best places to work, but if the 5,600 women sales representatives suing the company for sex discrimination win their $200 million case against the pharmaceutical giant, it's hard to imagine the magazine including it again. The trial starts today.

The plaintiffs allege that Novartis routinely discriminated against its female sales agents, paying and promoting them less. David Sanford, the lead plaintiffs' attorney, told The New York Times that Novartis particularly targeted pregnant women. "We will have overwhelming evidence to show how pregnant women are treated by Novartis once they declare they are pregnant and take maternity leave," said Sanford.

A few of plaintiffs' stories have been reported already, including that of the mother of twins who was repeatedly passed over for promotions given instead to men with worse sales numbers, and who heard a manager asking a recruiter if prospective sales reps were married or had children; the woman who said her manager explained he didn't like to hire young women, because "first comes love, then comes marriage then comes flex time and a baby carriage"; and the woman who claims she was encouraged to have an abortion. Sanford told Litigation Daily that 14 current and former employees would testify. "There's going to be lots of testimony, and some stories may be told for the first time," he said.

Novartis vehemently disputes the discrimination claims. Its lawyer, Amy L. Bess, asserted "Novartis is adamant that it has absolutely done the right thing ... It doesn't discriminate against women. Its policies and practices are absolutely cutting edge and are very, very favorable to women." These sharply differing views of reality highlight an unusual feature of this case: It's going to trial. Typically, these cases settle.

At this point, it's hard to know which side will sway the jury, but some signs are good for the plaintiffs. The Times article notes that last month, a former Novartis sales rep won $500,000 in a separate sex discrimination trial, claiming the company cut her sales territory in half after she announced she would take maternity leave.

Exxon Mobil Sues the U.S. Government To Recover Pollution Cleanup Costs

The Superfund law tries to ensure contamination is cleaned up by spreading liability around. Any potentially responsible party can be required to pay to clean up toxic pollution, but they are allowed to sue other owners/polluters to recover some of their costs. Not that polluters jump at the chance to start a remediation -- the government often has to sue to get the process started, or do the cleanup itself and then sue to get our money back. As a result, the federal government is frequently the plaintiff in Superfund cases.

Not this time. Exxon Mobil (XOM) is suing taxpayers for $45 million to cover clean up at a refinery site, reports the The Blog of Legal Times. During World War II, the government took over the refinery from Exxon Mobil's forerunner, Humble Oil and Refining, and didn't return it until after the Korean War. The toxic pollution, which Exxon Mobil says it spent $45 million to remediate, allegedly occurred during the years the government had "substantial day to day control of the complex", and Exxon Mobil wants the government to pay its "equitable share" of the cleanup costs. This suit is the second one Exxon Mobil has filed to recover costs. It also has a contract claim pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Soft Money Campaign Finance Case En Route to Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog reports that the Republican National Committee has appealed the D.C. District Court's unanimous ruling upholding the campaign finance soft money ban, and explains how the Supreme Court might -- not will, but legitimately might -- decide the case before the November elections.

And in the Business of Law...

When the economy boomed and law firm jobs abounded, a common rite of passage for law students was spending the summer of their second year of law school being wined and dined by -- er, working for -- law firms. Then, the "summer associates" could complete their third year secure in the knowledge that they had a firm job waiting for them upon graduation. The Great Recession stopped that gravy train, and now law students feel gratitude rather than entitlement when getting summer jobs -- and even more gratitude if they land real ones.

Above the Law has an analysis of how many of last summers' associates got jobs. Nearly all of those lucky enough to summer at the very top tier firms got offers, although ATL notes fewer summer associates were hired in the first place. But summertime fortunes declined in tandem with firm prestige, and even independent of prestige level, the summer associates in the South apparently had particularly poor hire rates.

One more reason new hires should be grateful for their law firm positions: Jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported by the Am Law Daily, show that the legal profession lost another 500 jobs in March.

Originally published