Mandatory arbitration at Sterling Jewelers

The New York Times today has a lengthy piece about treatment of female employees at Sterling, Kay, and Jared Jewelers — stores owned by the same company. The heart of the article is about pay inequity, and pervasive and extreme sexual harassment. But the article also describes the role of the forced arbitration and non-disclosure provisions in the stores' employment contracts in stymying the employees' efforts to hold the company accountable.

all the employees had signed a mandatory arbitration agreement in the flood of paperwork that accompanied their hiring at Sterling — everyone did at the time. Arbitration meant that instead of being heard in a public court, they had to proceed privately in Sterling’s in-house system, called Resolve. The first step of Resolve was an internal investigation. If the employee wasn’t satisfied by the results of that investigation, he or she could ask to be heard by a panel of the employee’s peers and an employment lawyer, all selected by Sterling. If the employee was still dissatisfied, the case was sent to arbitration. Sterling paid the arbitrator. The hearing’s proceedings were carried out with judicial oversight, but they were done in private, and their outcome was sealed. Afterward, if there was a settlement, the employee often had to sign a nondisclosure agreement that prohibited the employee from speaking about the case again.

The full article is here.

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