EEOC Sues Sterling for Discrimination

Sterling Jewelers Inc., the largest U.S. specialty retail jeweler, has been sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly “discriminating against a large class of female employees at stores nationwide.” It contends “thousands of women nationwide” are affected. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

Sterling, in a statement to JCK, said it had investigated the allegations when they first arose, but couldn’t substantiate them, and “we do not believe these charges are valid.” It noted the majority of its store managers and employees are women.

“We take the allegations raised in this lawsuit very seriously,” said David A. Bouffard, Sterling Jewelers vice president, media relations. “We are confident these charges don’t reflect the culture of this company. Fairness, opportunity, integrity and respect are core values at Sterling.” He said the company will “defend ourselves vigorously against whatever legal action arises.”

The civil action was filed Sept. 24 in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, N.Y.

In it, the EEOC alleges Sterling “pays its female retail sales employees less than male employees performing equal work, and denies female employees promotional opportunities for which they are qualified.” It does this, the suit claims, “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 pay and promotion opportunities.

The EEOC said it filed its lawsuit after allegedly failing to reach a voluntary settlement with Sterling. It is seeking “monetary relief, an order requiring the company to implement new policies and practices to prevent discrimination, training about anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the worksite, and other injunctive relief.”

Sterling, headquartered in Akron, Ohio, (pictured) operates 1,414 stores in the U.S., trading as “Kay Jewelers,” “Jared the Galleria of Jewelry,” and several regional names. It has more than 19,000 employees. Sterling is the U.S. division of Signet Jewelers Ltd., the world’s largest specialty retail jeweler in the world, which is moving its headquarters from London to Bermuda, and its stock listing from London to the New York Stock Exchange.