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Leading jewelry company rocked by sexual discrimination claims

Employers in Texas and around the country know that allegations of sexual harassment can tarnish corporate reputations and impact bottom lines. The share value of Sterling Jewelry Co. plummeted by 13 percent in February when reports of alleged sexual misconduct within the company emerged. A gender discrimination complaint was filed against Sterling Jewelry in 2008 by about a dozen women who claimed that they were paid unfairly and passed over for promotion in favor of men. This complaint has now ballooned into a class action lawsuit involving more than 69,000 workers.

Ohio-based Sterling jewelry employs about 18,000 workers at 1,500 stores in the United States and owns the Zales, Kay and Jared brands. While the initial claim against the company was based on gender rather than sexual discrimination, recent reports have included details of quid pro quo sexual harassment and inappropriate touching. Reports indicate that the case records were only made public after years of effort by the employees' attorneys.

Sterling reluctantly agreed to release the information provided that the names of corporate executives were redacted. A Sterling spokesperson said that the case remains a gender discrimination matter, and he pointed out that the plaintiffs have not filed any sexual harassment claims. He also accused media outlets of distorting the facts.

Labor law attorneys may encourage employers to settle discrimination and harassment claims quietly and quickly to avoid negative publicity. While this could save time and money for the defendants, the plaintiffs may feel pressured to accept a smaller settlement. Workers who feel that they have been discriminated against may get valuable legal guidance from a lawyer.

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