Sexual harassment continues to be a significant problem in workplaces all over the country. Laws at nearly every level protect employees against sexual harassment and related practices, and the need for these protections is evident every day. A class action first filed over a decade ago demonstrates just how widespread and pervasive the problem is and how complicated its legal remedies can be. The case began in 2006, when over a dozen current and former employees of a major jewelry retailer complained of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. This led to an ongoing proceeding before the American Arbitration Association (AAA) and a federal lawsuit. Jock, et al. v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., No. 11-160-00655-08, 1st am. complaint (AAA, Jun. 26, 2008); No. 2:08-cv-02875, am. complaint (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 30, 2009). The arbitrator granted class certification in 2015, and as of early 2017, the class had about 69,000 members. The case was back in the news recently, when lawyers for the plaintiffs obtained permission to release sworn statements by their clients to the media.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of several factors, including sex. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. See Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). Sexual harassment may be the subject of a class action complaint if the plaintiffs and their claims meet the criteria, including numerosity of complainants and commonality of claims and defenses. See Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 824 F.Supp. 847 (D. Minn. 1993).
Federal, state, and local employment statutes authorize civil lawsuits against employers for discriminatory practices, including sexual harassment. Many employers require their employees to sign contracts with arbitration clauses, however, which potentially keep them from seeking relief in a court of law. Arbitration is a method of alternative dispute resolution that resembles a civil lawsuit. A neutral arbitrator, who often has experience as a judge, reviews the allegations and evidence from both sides and may conduct hearings. Whether the parties are bound by an arbitrator’s decisions, and the extent to which a court may intervene in or overrule the arbitration, depends in large part on the terms of the employment contract.
The original plaintiffs in Jock first filed complaints with the AAA in 2006. They also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and received right-to-sue notices in 2008. The lawsuit in federal court followed soon afterward. The plaintiffs complained of a wide range of discriminatory practices based on sex, including the denial of opportunities for promotions and disparate pay rates. They further alleged sexual harassment of female employees by managers, along with a failure to address complaints of such conduct.
The case has gone through multiple stages of arbitration, according to AAA procedural rules. An arbitrator approved the plaintiffs’ request to pursue sex discrimination claims as a class in early 2015. At that time, the number of claimants had reportedly grown from the original dozen or so to about 44,000. That number had further grown to 69,000 by early 2017, as the case still awaits resolution.
The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City job applicants, employees, and former employees. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how our team can assist you.
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