NEW YORK - A jury that found Novartis discriminated against women by paying them less than men, promoting fewer of them and allowing a hostile workplace awarded $250 million in punitive damages on Wednesday.

The award may be dwarfed by the damages to 5,600 women at the drug company who were paid and promoted less than men, lawyers say. Jurors declined to speak to reporters after the six-week trial, but lawyers who brought the lawsuit said the jury's decision, coupled with its award of $3.3 million in compensatory damages to a dozen women Monday, sent a loud message.

"This will make women feel empowered," said Steven Wittels, a lawyer for women who worked for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. from 2002 until the present. "For too long, women have been kept silent and afraid to address the oppressive circumstances they're living with."

The verdict Wednesday capped a trial that featured two women now employed by Novartis and 12 others describing their efforts to advance in a company that favored men in pay and promotion and failed to act when complaints were made.

In a release, Novartis Pharmaceuticals President Andy Wyss said he was disappointed in the verdict.

"For more than 10 years the company has developed and implemented policies setting high standards with regards to diversity and inclusion for the development of our employees," he said.