Sterling Jewelers must face gender bias claims -U.S. court

Sept 9 (Reuters) - Sterling Jewelers Inc, the largest U.S. jewelry retailer, must face a federal agency’s claims that it failed to promote female employees and paid them less than men, a U.S. appeals court said on Wednesday.

The Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by Sterling, an Ohio-based unit of Signet Jewelers Ltd that owns Kay Jewelers and Jared, that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed to conduct a nationwide investigation before filing a 2008 lawsuit.

The agency says Sterling promoted men even when they were less qualified than female coworkers and paid women less than male counterparts with similar jobs. But the company says the EEOC only looked into claims by a handful of female workers.

Reversing a ruling by a U.S. judge in Buffalo, New York, the 2nd Circuit Court said while the EEOC is required to conduct an investigation, courts do not have the authority to delve into details of those probes and decide whether they were sufficient.

“Extensive judicial review of this sort would expend scarce resources and would delay and divert EEOC enforcement actions from ... eliminating discrimination in the workplace,” Circuit Judge John Walker wrote for the court.

The EEOC did not immediately have a comment on the decision. Sterling and its lawyer did not return requests for comment.

Wednesday’s ruling cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that said courts also do not have the power to review the commission’s efforts to settle cases out of court.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sterling Jewelers Inc, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals No. 14-1782. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Paul Simao)