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Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Federal, state, and municipal statutes and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual harassment and pregnancy. Federal and state laws also prohibit discrimination between male and female employees by paying lower wage rates to employees of one sex than to the other for work which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and which is performed under similar working conditions. Strict compliance with administrative prerequisites and statutes of limitations is necessary to preserve such claims. If you think you have experienced sexual discrimination or harassment, the lawyers at Burr & Smith, L.L.P. can help you evaluate your rights and remedies.

Sterling Jewelers Inc.:

Female Employees of Sterling Jewelers Move For Class Certification Of Their Claims Of Sex Discrimination in Compensation and Promotions.

On February 2, 2015, after a lengthy hearing and extensive briefing, Arbitrator Kathleen Roberts issued a ruling granting class certification to a class estimated to include 44,000 current and former women employees at Sterling Jewelers Inc.’s retail stores nationwide dating back to 2004 and going forward to the present and up to the first day of trial. The ruling permits the class to try on a classwide basis claims alleging that Sterling’s pay and promotion practices affecting retail sales associates have had an adverse effect on women. If the class succeeds in proving that the challenged pay and promotion practices were discriminatory, then, the Arbitrator also ruled, the class may seek classwide changes to the challenged pay and promotion practices. The ruling also provides that if the class proves the challenged practices were discriminatory, the Arbitrator will establish procedures to allow class members to recover damages for the wages lost because of the discrimination. The Arbitrator also ruled that the claim alleging intentional discrimination did not satisfy the high standard for class certification that the Supreme Court recently announced. However, the Named Claimants and current and former employees may still pursue individual claims of intentional discrimination. The Arbitrator has directed the parties to prepare a Notice to be sent to class members informing them of their rights under this ruling. The ruling (Class Determination Award) can be read here.

Following the Class Determination Award, on February 3, 2015, Sterling sent an email to all its employees, including members of the certified class arbitration, describing the Arbitrator’s Award in a way that the Arbitrator characterized as “improper” and erroneous. Class Counsel challenged Sterling’s memo to its employees on grounds that it was misleading.

On March 16, 2015, the Arbitrator ruled that Sterling’s February 3, 2015 email communication to its employees “presents a seriously incomplete and misleading description of the [Class Determination] Award that diminishes the significance of the Award and could potentially discourage interest and participation in the class arbitrations.” She found Sterling’s email “fail[ed] to convey the central determination of the Award: the certification of a class of tens of thousands of current and former female employees with respect to claims of discrimination based upon disparate impact.”

In this decision, the Arbitrator informed all that class members to the Arbitration are represented by Class Counsel (contact information provided below) and that Sterling’s attorneys are prohibited from contacting class members with respect to the subject matter of the Arbitration unless approved by Class Counsel or by order of the Arbitrator. The Arbitrator further directed the parties to prepare for her approval joint answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” (or “FAQs”) that can be used to explain the status of the case to any inquiring class members. FAQs will soon be posted on the American Arbitration Associations website at adr.org. The Arbitrator’s Order can be read here.

It is very important that anyone, female or male, who has information about these discrimination allegations or more generally about how Sterling has treated its women employees please call the lawyers at 202-408-4600 (Matt Jackson) providing your contact information and where you worked for Sterling . You may also contact our co-counsel Thomas A. Warren Law Offices, P.L., (Misty McKinnon) toll-free at (866) 854-5152; or Burr & Smith at (813) 253-2010 or (866) 647-3110, or by email at rep@burrandsmithlaw.com We are interested in speaking with former or current employees, both male and female. (Please note that we are not ethically permitted to discuss the case with current managers unless they believe they have experienced or are experiencing gender discrimination at Sterling).

Background History of Case

The Claimants are current and former female employees of Sterling Jewelers Inc. who have alleged they were paid less than similarly-situated male employees or were denied promotional opportunities because of their gender. The Claimants have worked at stores, owned by Sterling, that operate under the brand names: Kay Jewelers, Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, Marks and Morgan Jewelers, J.B. Robinson Jewelers, LeRoy’s Jewelers, Osterman Jewelers, Goodman Jewelers, Weisfield Jewelers, Shaw’s Jewelers, Friedlanders Jewelers, Rogers Jewelers, and Belden Jewelers.

The case, Jock et al. v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., AAA Case No. 11 160 00655 08, was filed in March 2008 with the American Arbitration Association, a private agency that manages arbitrations, rather than in court, because Sterling’s alternative dispute resolution program called the RESOLVE Program requires that employees bring claims of this kind before an arbitrator, who acts as a private judge. Current and former female employees of Sterling sued Sterling under federal civil rights laws alleging that they were paid less than men doing the same work at the same stores and have been denied chances for promotion into salaried jobs because of their gender. The Claimants’ First Amended Complaint can be viewed here: Claimants’ First Amended Complaint.

Sterling denied that it has committed any discrimination and argued that, in any event, its RESOLVE Program does not permit these women to pursue this case as a class action.

On June 1, 2009, the Arbitrator issued an order finding that Sterling’s RESOLVE Program did not prohibit the Claimants in Jock from bringing their claims together in a class action in arbitration. The Arbitrator’s decision permitting the claimants to seek class certification of their discrimination claims is linked here: Arbitrator’s June 1, 2009 Clause Construction Decision. 

On July 1, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an important ruling in Jock et al. v. Sterling Jewelers Inc. finding that the Arbitrator properly held that the Claimants could seek to pursue their gender-discrimination claims in a class arbitration. The decision reversed a district court order that had found that the Arbitrator exceeded her powers in allowing the claimants to seek class certification of their discrimination claims. The Second Circuit’s decision can be viewed by selecting this link: Second Circuit’s July 1, 2011 Decision. 

On March 19, 2012, the United States Supreme Court denied the petition for a writ of certiorari filed by Sterling Jewelers, thus upholding a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which held that the Claimants could seek class certification of their gender discrimination claims within arbitration. The denial of the writ, can be read here. An article discussing the case and the Supreme Court’s decision can be found here.

Prior to filing the demand for arbitration and the First Amended Arbitration Complaint, at least fifteen current or former female employees of Sterling filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). On January 3, 2008, the EEOC issued a Determination finding that Sterling subjected them and other female employees working at its stores in this country who have retail sales responsibilities to a pattern or practice of sex discrimination by paying women less than men doing the same work and denying women the same chance for promotion into salaried jobs.   On September 23, 2008, the EEOC filed its own lawsuit against Sterling alleging a pattern or practice of gender discrimination in its pay and promotion decisions. On March 10, 2014, the U.S. District Court in Buffalo, New York, dismissed the EEOC's case against Sterling based on its finding that the agency's investigation against the company was not national in scope. The decision to dismiss the case was not based on the merits of the case. The EEOC's litigation is a separate proceeding from Claimants' case, which remains pending in arbitration.

On June 21, 2013, Claimants moved for class certification of on behalf of themselves and similarly-situated female employees who work or worked in any of Sterling’s brand stores during the relevant period. The brief in support of the Claimants' Motion can be accessed here. The Arbitrator had ruled that the Claimants may make their motion for class certification available to the public after some material in the brief had been redacted.

Female Publix Super Market Employees Sue for Equal Job Benefits

The attorneys at Burr & Smith, L.L.P. have extensive experience litigating cases involving gender discrimination. For instance, Shores v. Publix Supermarkets, Burr & Smith, L.L.P. and co-counsel, obtained certification for more than 160,000 female current and former employees of Publix Super Markets to sue as a class for discrimination in various job benefits, including promotions, allocation of hours, job assignments, job advancement, pay and employment opportunities. In 1997, the Court approved a settlement awarding these women $81.5 million in monetary relief and extensive injunctive relief.

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