March 28, 2014

Among glittering diamonds and shining gemstones, Dawn Souto-Coons loved being in what she called “the business of romance,” selling engagement rings to smiling couples at a Jared jewelry store in Florida.

But her passion for the job crumbled one day in 2005. As she filed a form, she came across paperwork for a recently hired co-worker. She found the new salesperson, a man who had no retail jewelry experience, was making $15 an hour — over $1.50 more an hour than the woman who was the store’s top seller.

She checked another file, and then another, until she had reviewed the records of each of the dozen or so sales staff members. Almost all of the men, recalled Ms. Souto-Coons, then an assistant manager, were making more per hour than the women.

“I was so mad,” she said. “It was just an old boys’ club.”

Today Ms. Souto-Coons, 55, is among 12 women in a suit against Sterling Jewelers, parent of 12 chains in the United States, including Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers. Sterling, the largest retail jewelry company in the United States by sales, is accused of gender discrimination in its pay and promotion practices since 2003.

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