Every kiss may begin with Kay, but now a ton of sexual discrimination lawsuits are beginning with Sterling, the largest retail jewelry company in the country.
A group of twelve female employees are suing Sterling Jewelers—which owns companies like Kay and Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry—after they were consistently denied promotions, expected to endure sexual harassment, and paid $1.50 less an hour than male employees.
The lawsuit could open Sterling up to a class of 44,000 women, though the New York Times notes that because company policies require arbitration, not court, any settlement would be private.
In their lawsuit, the women detailed incidents dating back to the early 2000s.
- After Maria House, a former employee at a California Kay store would close a big sale "an assistant manager would announce that he had a 'reward' for her, opening his legs and telling her to sit on his lap."
- Another plaintiff who was asked to write a complaint about a male employee sexually harassing another female employee found out her report was watered down and the male employee was promoted.
- In 2009, the civil rights division of the Department of Law and Public Safety in New Jersey found Sterling knew or should have known about harassment reported by a woman who said her manager had "rubbed up against her."
- The lawsuit also details a company meeting when CEO Mark Light "jumped into a swimming pool with female managers who were 'in various states of undress.'"
The suit also details widespread corporate mistreatment:
One situation noted in the complaint involves a rape case. A manager was assaulted by another manager in a Florida hotel room during an annual meeting in 2003. In the wake of that case, a third manager, the victim's hotel roommate and a witness, was fired, accused of withholding information from company management, according to a complaint she filed.
The dispute with the company is described in the roommate's 2004 lawsuit against Sterling. Months after the assault, the roommate was called to the firm's headquarters, 200 miles from where she worked, and asked personal questions about her sex life, according to her suit. Eight days later, she was fired. The woman sued for invasion of privacy and wrongful termination. Sterling won a court fight that kept her case in private arbitration. The case went to mediation and was settled.
A Sterling spokesperson told the Times that women are fairly represented in sales clerk, assistant manager, and manager positions in all of the company's store, saying, "Fairness, equal opportunity and respect for our female employees — and all employees is central to who we are."
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