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Sterling class-action possible in New Jersey, other U.S. cities

A group of women have banned together to levy charges of bias, wage discrimination and harassment against the biggest-selling retail jewelry company in the U.S. — Sterling Jewelers. Sterling is the parent company of a dozen chains in the U.S., including Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry. Sterling operates stores in all 50 states, including New Jersey.

The group of 12 women allege in a gender-based workplace discrimination suit that men were routinely paid more than women by the jewelry giant, including men who had less time on the job than women. In one instance, a man hired as a sales agent was making a higher hourly wage than a woman who was the company’s top-selling employee.

The plaintiffs’ allegations are not solely about discrimination in the workplace. Some of the women in the suit allege that “vulgar behavior” and sexual harassment on the job left them feeling like they had been violated.

If this class-action lawsuit is certified as such, around 44,000 sales employees for Sterling, including both former and existing workers, will be offered the opportunity to join the case. Class members may be awarded back pay for being paid less based on their gender, as well as punitive damages. Even if the class action is certified, each plaintiff must pursue the case against Sterling Jewelers privately, since the company’s policies require that employees deal with such cases via arbitration instead of going through the normal court procedure.

Through its spokesman, Sterling referenced the allegations by saying, “We believe that the facts show that they are without merit.” Sterling plans to fight the cases. Of the accusations of sexual harassment, the spokesman says that employees were disciplined at the time after an investigation.

Although the outcome of this situation has yet to unfold, workers who feel that their employee rights have been imperiled have a right to seek out compensation through legal recourse. New Jersey laws against discrimination are clear and violators must compelled to pay those that have been wrongly discriminated against.

Source: The New York Times, “Women Charge Bias and Harassment in Suit Against Sterling Jewelers” Susan Antilla, Mar. 28, 2014

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