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Company-Wide Gender Discrimination Leads to Class Action Lawsuit


You may not be surprised to hear about a business paying men more than women to do the same job, or giving all of the promotions and management jobs to the male employees, regardless of qualifications and experience. But, when the business is the largest-selling retail jewelry company in the country you might be surprised to hear that gender discrimination claims are coming from many of its stores all around the United States. It makes you wonder if there is an unspoken policy of gender bias.

Class Allegations against Sterling Jewelers

Reminiscent of the Wal-Mart sex discrimination class action suit, Dukes v. Wal-Mart, Sterling Jewelers has been accused by 16 individual female employees of engaging in widespread pay, promotions, and other gender discrimination at many of its stores across the country. Sterling Jewelers owns Galleria of Jewelry, Kay Jewelers and other stores. The claims span from California, to Wisconsin, to New York.

In New York, four female employees alleged they were paid less than a man hired in 2005, who had no prior experience whatsoever in the industry, and was told he "needed to be paid more than the females because he had a child to support." A couple in Madison, Wisconsin claim to have quite clear evidence of gender discrimination. The husband and wife both worked as store managers and had very similar qualifications and experience. The husband was being paid $55,000 a year, while his wife only made $35,000 a year. When they both became district managers, he still made $10,000 more.

Sexual Harassment has also been alleged

Some of the women also complain of sexual harassment by managers and assistant managers. Maria House, who worked at a Kay Jewelers in California, claims her assistant manager, Shaun McCullough, "made inappropriate and unwelcome comments about her chest," including telling her, "I would like to suck on your boobs." According to the lawsuit, when she reported the behavior, she was told to "stop overreacting and get back to work." Another female employee in a New Jersey store, Leighla Murphy, reported that her assistant manager cornered her in a back room and tried to kiss her against her will. When she reported the incident to her manager, she was cut entirely from the schedule. Unfortunately, one of the claims includes rape.

Tough road ahead

The first hurdle these employees must face is arbitration. Since 1998, Sterling Jewelers has required its employees, as a condition of their employment, to agree to resolve disputes through private arbitration. So, none of these plaintiffs will be allowed to present their case to a jury.

Another significant hurdle is trying certify the lawsuit as a class action. If certified, there would be approximately 44,000 current and former employees who could join the case. However, the plaintiffs in Dukes v. Wal-Mart were not successful in doing so. That case, filed in 2001, was thrown out by the United States Supreme Court in 2011, when it ruled that they could not bring a class action lawsuit for their gender discrimination claims. As such, these claims may end up being arbitrated separately or in small groups. Either way, they have an uphill battle against a jewelry giant.

If you believe you have been the victim of sex discrimination or harassment, contact the Alabama employment lawyers at Michel | King Michel & Kingeither online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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