High profile glass ceiling/promotion discrimination case settles


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it had settled a long-running glass ceiling/promotion discrimination case on behalf of female employees against Sterling Jewelers.

The main focus of the EEOC’s complaint alleged that Sterling Jewelers had a glass ceiling for female retail sales employees under which women were paid less and were not promoted as often as similarly situated male employees.  The EEOC’s settlement does not affect another ongoing class action gender discrimination case brought by private plaintiffs.  That lawsuit is currently being litigated separately in private arbitration and is scheduled for trial in early 2018.

A link to the EEOC’s settlement agreement is at the bottom of this page.

Glass ceiling discrimination allegations by the EEOC

In 2008, the EEOC filed its lawsuit against Sterling Jewelers claiming the company had constructed a glass ceiling such that female sales employees received lower pay and less promotional opportunities than their male counterparts, even though they performed the same kind and quality of work.

According to the EEOC, the company’s glass ceiling discrimination affected more than just one or a handful of employees; instead, the promotion and compensation discrimination against female sales employees constituted a pattern or practice (similar to a class action) of gender discrimination.  The EEOC claimed that this pattern or practice of promotion and compensation discrimination violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The company has denied that it discriminated against any employees.

A separate class action lawsuit about promotion and pay discrimination against female employees was filed and is currently being litigated in arbitration (Jock, et al. v. Sterling Jewelers, Ltd.) before the American Arbitration Association.  The EEOC’s settlement does not affect the Jock lawsuit.

Relief granted under the EEOC’s settlement

The EEOC and Sterling Jewelers entered into a consent decree/settlement agreement, which will remain in effect for at least three years.  The agreement does not provide for money damages, but it does require Sterling Jewelers to evaluate a series of changes to its policies and practices to address the alleged glass ceiling in promotions and compensation for women.

For example, Sterling Jewelers must pay and retain an Industrial-Organization Psychologist to function as an independent Employment Practices Expert for the company.  This expert will then work with the company to evaluate and recommend changes to, among other things:

  • the criteria used to make promotion decisions to various management positions;
  • the practices and systems used to set starting pay and to award merit pay for various positions;
  • any pay disparities between male and female employees and will also work to remedy any pay differences that are not job related or consistent with business necessity; and
  • the manner in which promotion selections for field positions are made and advertised

After the expert’s evaluation is complete, she will provide a written report detailing her findings and recommendations to Sterling Jewelers and the EEOC.

The company must also appoint a Compliance Officer (at the level of Vice President or above) whose main function will be to oversee and implement the terms of the settlement agreement/consent decree.  Likewise, the company will require anti-discrimination training for its workforce.

What to do if you are facing glass ceiling discrimination

If you think you have been unfairly passed over for promotions or paid less because of your gender (including members of the LGBT community), race, national origin or other protected characteristic, you should speak with an experienced employment attorney to discuss your legal options and any deadlines that may apply to your claim.

Sterling Jewelers EEOC consent decree

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