Drugmaker Novartis AG must pay $250 million in punitive damages to more than 5,000 current and former women employees, a jury ruled on Wednesday, two days after finding a U.S. division of the company discriminated against women over pay, promotion and pregnancy.

The jury in U.S. District Court in New York decided that Novartis should pay punitive damages to the entire class of about 5,600 women stemming from a lawsuit filed in 2004.

Presiding Judge Colleen McMahon will determine back pay, lost benefits and adjusted wages for each member of the class.

A Novartis spokeswoman, Pamela McKinlay, said she could not immediately comment on the jury's decision over punitive damages.

David Sanford, a lawyer for the women, said he was delighted.

This is a vindication of everything that has happened in this courtroom over the last two months, Sanford told reporters after the verdict.

He said the verdict had sent a message to Novartis and other companies that they cannot continue to get away with the discrimination and systemic problems that have occurred for so long.

In the first part of their ruling on Monday, the jury awarded $3.3 million in compensatory damages to 12 of the women who testified at the 6-week long trial. The award to the 12 women opens the door for the 5,588 other women in the class who can now also apply for compensatory damages.

Sanford had argued in court on Tuesday that the jury should award between $190 million and $285 million in punitive damages, which is about 2 to 3 percent of the company's $9.5 billion 2009 revenue.

Novartis lawyer, Richard Schnadig, told the jury that not all of the plaintiffs agreed with the lawsuit and the company was already pushing ahead with changes.

The case is Velez et al v Novartis Corporation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 04-09194.

(Reporting by Basil Katz and Grant McCool, editing by Dave Zimmerman)