By Michelle Graff
Michelle-blogOn March 28, the Times ran a story online titled “Women Charge Bias and Harassment in Suit Against Sterling Jewelers,” about a lawsuit filed against Sterling Jewelers by 12 former female employees accusing the Kay and Jared owner of gender discrimination in pay and promotion. (A print version of the story ran on page B1 of the paper’s New York edition the following day under the headline “Fighting the Old Boys’ Club.”)

What the article doesn’t mention is that the lawsuit was filed in March 2008.

This is not to say the lawsuit or the women’s claims contained therein are not important or that the case is not worthy of publicity. I feel just the opposite, in fact, and have been following the case’s twists and turns for the past several years.

But it’s worth pointing out that the lawsuit isn’t something that’s popped up in the last couple of months, for anybody in the jewelry industry that may think this is a new and/or different case.

I have no way of knowing exactly what prompted the Times to run the story but I do know the issue of alleged gender discrimination by Sterling did make some headlines last month.

On March 10, a federal judge threw out a separate but related federal case filed against Sterling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC filed its case in September 2008, just a few months after the women’s case was filed. The commission alleged gender discrimination on behalf of Sterling’s 44,000 female employees, making it the largest case ever filed by the EEOC.

Agreeing with the ruling of a lower court, the judge determined that the EEOC did not conduct a thorough enough investigation to claim Sterling exhibited a pattern of nationwide discrimination against its female employees; the judge’s ruling did not comment on the merits of the discrimination allegations, just on the fact that the EEOC couldn’t prove it was widespread after investigating only a few stores.

Sterling has denied the women’s claims throughout in both cases, noting that the company culture is “built on core values of fairness, opportunity, integrity and respect.”

In the case filed by the 12 women, attorneys also are seeking class-action status for thousands of current and former female Sterling employees, all of whom are bound by company policy to pursue their case in arbitration.

As attorney Joe Sellers told National Jeweler last month when the EEOC ruling news broke, there was a hearing at the end of February on their request for the case to proceed as a class action. A Washington-based attorney with Cohen Milstein, Sellers is one of the attorneys representing the 12 women in the case against Sterling.

Sellers said Tuesday they were still awaiting the arbiter’s decision. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear something more.

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