New York, NY- Dozens of women have filed a sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit against Sterling Jewelers– one of the a largest jewelry companies in America– alleging they were paid less than their male counterparts, and were denied promotions based solely on their gender. The lawsuit also alleges Sterling failed to address rampant sexual harassment.
Dawn Suoto-Coons, 55, who is among the over dozen women suing the jewelry company, was working as an assistant store manager when she came across paperwork in 2005 which showed women were paid less than men. She said “I was so mad. It was just an old boys’ club.” She quit and kept the paperwork which is being used in the suit.
The class-action lawsuit alleges that Sterling, which operates 12 chains of jewelry stores including Jared Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, discriminated against women at all levels of the company by paying them less even though they performed as well or better that their male peers. According to Slate one female sales associate in a Missouri was making $8.50 an hour while a male sales associate with a similar standing made $11.50 an hour. Another woman, who was a sales manager in Minnesota, was making $35,000 a year, while her husband also a store manager was making $55,000 a year despite the fact that his wife had the same achievements within the company, Slate reported.
Not only were female employees of Sterling paid less than men, they were also passed over for promotions. A Wisconsin woman who had 30 years of experience in the industry was routinely passed over for promotions which were instead given to men despite her extensive experience.
And on top of gender discrimination, Sterling is being accused allowing sexual harassment to go unaddressed. An Indiana woman working as an assistant manager was sexually harassed by male assistant manager, but when she complained to the company she was fired.
In 2009, the civil rights division of the Department of Law and Public Safety in New Jersey found that Sterling knew or should have known about the sexual harassment of a woman by one of her store managers, according to the Daily Mail. Another complaint involved a rape case. A complaint from Florida alleges a male store manager assaulted a female associate in a hotel while attending a conference.
The 16 page compliant details a number of ways in which the jewelry giant subjected female employees to systematic gender discrimination, but Sterling spokesman David Bouffard told the New York Times, the allegations of pay discrimination were without merit. As for the sexual harassment allegations, Bouffard said all complaints are investigated and employees who violate company policy are disciplined.
“Fairness, equal opportunity and respect for our female employees—and all employees,” Bouffard told the Times, “is central to who we are.”
The case however won’t be litigated on court because of an employment contract which requires arbitrations to settle harassment and discrimination complaints. Sterling may want you to appreciate the women in your life with some pricey jewelry but this lawsuit shows they have an archaic way of treating women in the workplace.