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Female employee allege rights violated by Sterling Jewelers

As most New Yorkers know, men and women are regarded as equal under the law when it comes to employee rights. This equality applies to wages and hours, workplace safety and even employment opportunities. For some female employees of Sterling Jewelers, a well-known jewelry retailer, this has not been the case according to a class-action lawsuit they recently filed against the retailing giant.

According to news reports, a dozen female employees are suing Sterling for alleged pay discrimination. One plaintiff, a 55-year-old woman claims to have uncovered a paper trail showing that the Akron-based jewelry company pays men employees more per hour than women. Other women in the suit agree with that assessment.

Sterling, the largest retail jeweler in the country, has been accused of employment discrimination several times since 2003, most recently by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in 2008. That suit was filed on behalf of Sterling's 44,000 female employees, alleging that women were denied promotional opportunities and paid less for equal work. A federal judge threw out the EEOC's suit in March, claiming that the commission had only investigated a handful of Sterling stores and thus had not presented comprehensive evidence of companywide problems.

Several of the women filing suit also voiced concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace.

If the newest class-action lawsuit against Sterling is certified, nearly 44,000 former and current Sterling sales employees could join the case against the jewelry company, although they would have to do so privately through arbitration as required by their employment contracts.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination not only affect employees' job performance but also their employee rights. Any unfair labor practice based on gender is not tolerated under employment law. Consulting a legal professional with experience with the law should be the first step in addressing such issues.

Source: New York Times, "Women Charge Bias and Harassment in Suit Against Sterling Jewelers," Susan Antilla, March 28, 2014

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