June 09, 2022

The case, in which 68,000 women alleged unfair pay and promotion practices, had become a hallmark of #MeToo activism

Sterling Jewelers, the American diamond empire that owns Jared and Kay Jewelers, has agreed to pay $175 million to settle a long-fought class-action lawsuit alleging that the company had for years discriminated against tens of thousands of women in their pay and promotion practices.

The case, filed in 2008, became a hallmark of #MeToo activism after some of the women revealed to The Washington Post in 2017 that they had been pressured to cater to their bosses’ sexual demands to get promoted or stay employed.

The class was composed of about 68,000 women who had worked, mostly as sales associates, in the jewelry stores between 2004 and 2018. Their lawyers argued that the company’s rules on pay rates adversely affected women and that women got promotions far less often they deserved.

A trial in private arbitration was scheduled for this September, said the women’s lawyers, who announced the settlement Thursday. The lawsuit has faced so many years of delays that one of the case’s 15 named claimants passed away before it was resolved.

Sterling runs some of the country’s biggest retail jewelry chains and has for years been famous for its shopping-mall boutiques and TV ads, including “Every kiss begins with Kay.”

The suit’s claims were limited to sexual discrimination in pay and promotion, not sexual harassment or assault. But as part of the case, women filed sworn statements saying they had been regularly groped, harassed and coaxed into providing sexual favors, including at boozy corporate retreats.

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The plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Joseph Sellers of the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, said the legal team had seen no evidence that the misconduct women had spoken of in their previous statements had happened in recent years since the company had announced a series of reforms.

Signet, which did not admit liability as part of the settlement, said it has discontinued the pay and promotion practices at the heart of the suit. The company said it now also offers mentorship and leadership training programs for women and has strengthened a system for reporting and investigating complaints of workplace abuse.

Sellers said in an interview that the settlement would “ensure the practices that gave rise to the case are never going to happen again” at the company.

Sterling discrimination case highlights differences between arbitration, litigation

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The case also threw a spotlight on the then-widespread corporate rules that forced victims of sexual harassment or assault to file claims against their employers only in private arbitration, where the proceedings were largely confidential.

President Biden in March signed into law a bill ending forced arbitration in such cases, allowing survivors to file lawsuits in public courts.

Click through to read The Washington Post, “Jewelry Giant Settles Gender-Discrimination Lawsuit for $175 million.”