By Michelle Graff
Sterling Jewelers Inc. is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the most recent ruling in the pay and promotion discrimination case first filed against it in 2008.
New York—Sterling Jewelers Inc., a subsidiary of industry giant Signet Jewelers, wants the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the latest ruling in its long-running legal battle over pay and promotion discrimination.

In November 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned a lower court’s ruling that cut thousands of women from the case.

The appeals court said the arbitrator in the case—which was filed in 2008 by a group of women who allege they were paid less than men and passed over for promotions while working at the jeweler—was within her rights when she certified the case as a class action that includes tens of thousands of current and former female employees.

Sterling has long argued against this notion, contending that the arbitrator, Kathleen A. Roberts, can only include the dozen women who originally sued the jeweler and the couple hundred who affirmatively opted into the arbitration proceeding.

Under Sterling’s interpretation, the number of claimants would be cut down from about 70,000 to less than 300.

The case has gone back and forth on appeals over this issue nearly a half-dozen times, and now it could be headed to the highest court in the land.

Following the Second Circuit’s ruling in November, Sterling requested an en banc hearing (a hearing in front of multiple judges, not just a three-judge panel) of the appellate court’s decision on Dec. 2.

The court, which rarely grants such reviews, denied that petition on Jan. 15.

On Jan. 21, Sterling indicated its intention to file a petition with the Supreme Court to review the case and asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to stay its mandate (essentially, pause any proceedings in the case) in the meantime, which was granted.

In its motion for the stay, the jewelry retailer said it is “reasonably probable” the Supreme Court will grant its petition and there is a “fair prospect” the majority of the court’s nine justices will vote to reverse the appellate court’s most recent decision in the case.

“The issues at hand are legally significant, and appropriate for review by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Sterling parent company Signet said in a statement to National Jeweler.

“A recent Supreme Court decision endorsed Sterling’s position on this matter, and we will request its further review of the case based on those principles. We believe the claims in this matter are without merit and are not substantiated by the relevant facts and statistics. We will continue to vigorously defend against these claims, as they do not accurately reflect our company or our culture.”

But Joseph M. Sellers, one of the Washington, D.C.-based attorneys who represents the women, pointed out that the appellate court’s November 2019 decision was unanimous, and that none of the Second Circuit’s active judges voted in favor of an en banc review.

“We feel that this reflects this was a sound decision, and we hope and expect the [Supreme] Court will deny review,” he said.

The Supreme Court hears cases from October through April. Its current term opened Oct. 1, and the court is scheduled to hear arguments through April 29.

Signet’s certiorari petition is due April 14, meaning that while the court may rule to grant or deny the petition before the end of this term, it most likely will not hear the case (if it chooses to do so) until fall 2020 at the earliest, when the new term begins.

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