EEOC Sues Sterling Jewelers for Sex Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, has sued the Akron, Ohio-based Sterling Jewelers Inc., the largest U.S. specialty retail jeweler, for allegedly "discriminating against a large class of female employees at stores nationwide." The commission says "thousands of women nationwide" are affected.

EEOC found that the company "pays its female retail sales employees less than male employees performing equal work and denies female employees promotional opportunities for which they are qualified." The commission said it filed the case after a failed attempt to reach a voluntary settlement with Sterling and is now seeking monetary relief, an order requiring the company to implement new policies and practices to prevent discrimination, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the worksite, and other injunctive relief.

"Sterling Jewelers intentionally discriminates against female retail sales employees by maintaining a system for making promotion and compensation decisions that is excessively subjective, and through which Sterling Jewelers has permitted or encouraged managers to deny female employees equal access to promotion opportunities and the same compensation paid to similarly situated male employees," EEOC states in its lawsuit.

"We hope this case is a wake up call to corporate America that sex discrimination in employment must be taken seriously and addressed appropriately," said EEOC's New York district director Spencer H. Lewis Jr. "It should be a no-brainer in the 21st century workplace that women deserve pay and promotional opportunities based on merit, not gender. Employers who fail to grasp and abide by the letter of the law do so at great risk."

EEOC Philadelphia district director Marie Tomasso added, "In granting managers discretion to make pay and promotion decisions, employers need to ensure that they are not also granting discretion to engage in sex discrimination. Every person deserves the freedom to compete and advance in the workplace as far as their talent and ability allows."

Sterling operates 1,414 stores in the United States, trading as "Kay Jewelers," "Jared the Galleria of Jewelry," and several regional names. It has more than 19,000 employees and is the U.S. operations of Signet Group plc.

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