Since 2008, a group of female employees of the nation’s largest jewelry retailer have been pursuing a putative class action sex discrimination lawsuit against their employer. Jock, et al v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., No. 2:08-cv-02875, am. complaint (S.D.N.Y., Apr. 24, 2008). The plaintiffs’ employment contracts requires arbitration, and the arbitrator’s decision on classwide arbitration has made its way to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and a denial of certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court. The plaintiffs claim that the defendant, Sterling Jewelry, discriminated based in sex in pay and promotions, and permitted sexual harassment. The potential class of plaintiffs, current and former female Sterling employees, reportedly numbers about 44,000.
Sterling is the parent company of twelve retail jewelry chains operating throughout the U.S., including such well-known names as Jared and Kay. One of the plaintiffs, who worked at a Jared location in Florida, first noticed a disparity in pay between male and female employees at Sterling in 2005. She and other female employees filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They received notices of right to sue from the EEOC around March 2008, and filed suit soon afterwards.
The lawsuit asserts a classwide cause of action for disparate treatment based on sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint makes a general allegation of sexual harassment of female Sterling employees by managers, and alleges specific instances on behalf of individual plaintiffs. One plaintiff alleges that a male manager sexually harassed her by sending text messages “expressing his desire to be alone with her.” Id. at 16. Other plaintiffs allege specific instances of sexual comments and unwanted sexual advances.
A series of reported decisions regarding arbitration proceeded from the case. The court ordered the case into arbitration in July 2008, giving the arbitrator the discretion to determine whether the case could proceed as a class arbitration. 564 F.Supp.2d 307 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). The arbitrator determined that the arbitration agreement between the parties might allow class arbitration. The court denied Sterling’s motion to vacate this determination. 677 F.Supp.2d 661 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
The district court later held that it was inclined to vacate its prior order based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Stolt-Nielsen v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 130 S.Ct. 1758 (2010), which held that a large group of parties may only engage in class arbitration if the arbitration agreement expressly allows it.. Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, 725 F.Supp.2d 444 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). The court vacated the order in August 2010, but stayed the final effect of the order while the plaintiffs’ appeal was pending. 738 F.Supp.2d 445 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
The Second Circuit reversed the district court, finding that the arbitrator acted within his authority to allow class arbitration. Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, 646 F.3d 113 (2nd Cir. 2011). The Supreme Court declined to hear Sterling’s appeal, Sterling Jewelers v. Jock, 132 S.Ct. 1742 (2012), and the case is now in the process of arbitration and class certification.
The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent the rights of workers in New York City and surrounding areas. We fight for people who have experienced sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other unlawful employment practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.
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Photo credit: By Mark Ahsmann (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.