The largest jewelry company in the country has recently been hit with a nationwide sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit. Sterling Jewelers, which owns many smaller jewelry companies such as Jared Galleria of Jewelry, may now be subject to liability to a class of over 40,000 female employees. The large plaintiff pool is pending class certification by a judge. The matter will likely enter arbitration shortly after class certification.
In its formal complaint, the group of female employees alleges that the company has instituted widespread corporate mistreatment against them. The specific claims and allegations are numerous: a manager who constantly asked female employees to sit on his lap, male employees earning significantly higher wages than female employees in similar job positions, male managers forcibly rubbing against female employees, and reports of sexual harassment that were changed without the complaining employee’s permission. The accounts of misconduct, harassment, and discrimination date back to at least the early 2000s.
Previous rulings by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the New Jersey Department of Law and Safety have given merit to the women’s complaints. Both organizations have previously found that the there was probable cause that Sterling had discriminated against female employees. Despite this history, Sterling denies all allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment. In its defense, Sterling points to the fact that nearly seventy percent of its employees are female. In response to this, however, the women’s complaint claims that only six of the company’s twenty-four vice presidents in recent years have been women.
Sterling’s company policies require that this type of action go through an arbitration process rather than through the courts. As a result, many of the specific facts and details that arise from the case will likely remain private. Legal commentators state that this is a recent change in employment law. Previously, arbitration agreements had not applied to class action lawsuits, such as the one filed against Sterling. Currently, however, many companies use arbitration agreements, even when sued by a class.
For an individual involved in a class action lawsuit, arbitration may have several consequences. As part of a class, an individual may not be able to speak up for her own rights, but, on the other hand, her claim may be assisted by those of others. Even when represented by a large class, it is important that members are aware of the law surrounding their claims and understand their individual rights. Rather than adopting a “pack mentality,” an individual can seek the help of an experienced employment attorney who can explain the personal implications and consequences of a workplace discrimination class action.