News & Announcements

Sterling Jewelers Obtains Dismissal of Significant EEOC Pattern or Practice Lawsuit

Court Re-Affirms EEOC’s Pre-Suit Statutory Obligations Under Title VII
On March 10, 2014, Weil, along with co-counsel from Seyfarth Shaw, secured a major victory for longtime client Sterling Jewelers Inc. in litigation commenced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The case is believed to be the largest current case on the EEOC’s active docket.

Judge Richard J. Arcara of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of New York adopted Magistrate Judge McCarthy’s January 2, 2014 Report, Recommendation and Order, granting Sterling’s motion for summary judgment, and dismissing the EEOC’s pending nationwide pattern or practice lawsuit against the company. The EEOC’s suit, initiated in 2008, alleged that Sterling discriminated against its female employees in pay and/or promotion based on their sex. Following discovery, Sterling moved for summary judgment on the basis that the EEOC had failed to produce any evidence demonstrating that it had complied with its Title VII pre-suit obligation of conducting a nationwide investigation of Sterling’s employment practices.

In his Report, Magistrate Judge McCarthy rejected the EEOC’s contention that a court may not inquire as to the scope of the EEOC’s pre-suit investigation, and further found that the EEOC had produced no evidence that it had in fact conducted a nationwide investigation before commencing litigation. More specifically, Magistrate Judge McCarthy disagreed with the EEOC: (i) that the charges themselves – purportedly asserted on behalf of a class – satisfied the EEOC’s pre-suit obligation to conduct a nationwide investigation; or (ii) that the EEOC’s receipt – absent any evidence of independent analysis or review – of nationwide statistical information from counsel for the charging parties satisfied the EEOC’s pre-suit obligations. Indeed, Magistrate Judge McCarthy determined that “[w]here, as here, the EEOC completely abdicates its role in the administrative process, the appropriate remedy is to bar the EEOC from seeking relief . . . and dismiss the EEOC’s Complaint.” EEOC v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., No. 08-00706 (Doc. 383), pp. 17-18. Overruling the EEOC’s objections to Magistrate Judge McCarthy’s Report, and only one business day after the parties’ oral argument, Judge Arcara adopted Magistrate Judge McCarthy’s Report, and dismissed the EEOC’s nationwide pattern or practice claim of employment discrimination with prejudice. This case sets forth important precedent re-affirming the EEOC’s pre-suit statutory obligations under Title VII, and the principle that courts are willing to examine the EEOC’s compliance, and hold the EEOC strictly to its statutory obligations.

Working with co-counsel from Seyfarth Shaw, the Weil team was led by Employment Litigation practice chair Jeffrey S. Klein and associate Celine Chan.

This news was reported in the following outlets (may require registration/subscription):

  • Law360: Judge Guts EEOC Sex Bias Suit Against Sterling Jewelers (March 10, 2014)
  • The Am Law Litigation Daily: EEOC Botched Bias Case Against Jewelry Giant, Judge Rules (March 11, 20114)
  • Law360: Battle Over EEOC Presuit Tactics Heats Up (March 11, 2014)
  • New York Law Journal: Judge Faults EEOC for Probe Into Discrimination Claim (March 13, 2014)