Sterling Jewelers Settles With EEOC But Still Faces Class Action By Women Employees

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just proved it is more interested in fostering real change than fining large corporations.

Sterling Jewelers just settled the lawsuit filed by the EEOC, alleging it discriminates against its female employees, without admitting to having done anything wrong or paying any money to the class of plaintiffs. Instead, Sterling Jewelers (which owns Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, among others) has agreed to hire an independent employment expert who will review employment and promotion practices within the jewelry company.

But Sterling still has to deal with a separate class-action arbitration case in which female employees of the company are accusing Sterling of regularly paying women less than their male counterparts, overlooking women for promotions and other opportunities for advancement, and fostering a work culture in which sexual harassment was the norm.

Signet (which is Sterling’s parent company) is continuing to fight the arbitration claims and said it has already investigated the allegations of sexual harassment on its own without finding anything to back up the allegations.

The attorney representing the class of women in the arbitration case say the settlement with the EEOC does not affect the arbitration case in which his clients are involved, which they are expecting will go to trial next year. He says they intend to not only get justice for the victims of the alleged gender bias at the company, but also force Sterling to make meaningful changes to its employment practices that will help make real improvements to the work environment for all employees of the company.

Because of the private nature of arbitration, it is unlikely the public will ever get to know how that particular case ends, although the settlement agreement with the EEOC is encouraging for women working for the jewelry chain.

How much of an effect either of these cases will have on the massive sales the jewelry company currently makes (more than $6.5 billion annually in the U.S., U.K., and Canada) has yet to be seen. Just the existence of one gender bias lawsuit, much less two, makes the company look bad. But when it’s already a household name and a familiar sight in malls all across North America and the U.K., it’ll take much more than a few negative news articles to have a significant effect on the company’s business.

Most likely, the arbitration case will result in a settlement similar to the one made with the EEOC and business will go on as usual. Hopefully the legal action will encourage women everywhere to stand up for their rights in the workplace, and employers to treat all their workers equally and foster a workplace culture that welcomes everyone and recognizes talent over more superficial features, such as race and gender.

An independent employment expert won’t necessarily solve the problems the class-action arbitration case alleges Signet has, but hopefully it will be a step in the right direction towards changing the attitudes and mindsets of the higher-level executives at Signet and Sterling who allegedly allowed such vile practices to go unchecked.

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