MANHATTAN (CN) – Sterling, the largest fine jewelry company in the United States, must face claims that their female retail workers face lower pay and glass ceilings, the Second Circuit ruled on Wednesday.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s probe of the jewelry giant began when 19 women working at Sterling’s stores in New York, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Indiana and Texas brought bias complaints between May 2005 and November 2006.
After investigating the allegations for nearly two years, the commission sued Sterling in Buffalo Federal Court in 2008.
Last year, a federal magistrate and judge there found the commission conducted an investigation that was too limited to allege sex-discrimination on a nationwide basis. The commission had assigned five investigators before the case’s transfer to its Buffalo office, where a single investigator was tapped to probe all of the allegations.
U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara dismissed the lawsuit last year.
A three-judge panel from the Second Circuit unanimously overturned that ruling on Wednesday, finding that it was not the court’s role to decide whether the commission’s investigation was sufficient.
“For a court to second-guess the choices made by the EEOC in conducting an investigation ‘is not to enforce the law Congress wrote, but to impose extra procedural requirements,'” Circuit Judge John Walker wrote for the panel, quoting the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of coal mining company Mach Mining.
“‘Such judicial review extends too far,'” Walker added.
The commission’s associate general counsel Jennifer Goldstein hailed the decision in an email statement.
She added that the circuit’s finding that the commission has “extensive discretion” in how it investigates claims would be a boon to the cash-strapped agency.
“Such discretion is critical for EEOC as it makes decisions about how to expend scarce resources,” she said. “We are also pleased that the Second Circuit recognized that court scrutiny of EEOC investigations would divert attention away from the purpose of Title VII – eliminating discrimination in the workplace.”
Sterling released a statement emphasizing that it takes the commission’s allegations “very seriously.”
“They are not substantiated by the facts and do not reflect the culture of our company,” the company said. “It is important to note that this ruling does not address the merits of the case and we will continue to vigorously defend the company against these unjustified legal claims, which misrepresent our deep commitment to, and history of, equal opportunity.”
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