The Company That Sells Love to America Had a Dark Secret
The pay-and-promotions lawsuit against Sterling Jewelers Inc. began the way a lot of these things begin: In 2005, Dawn Souto-Coons walked out of the Cheap Jewellery Shops store where she had been a successful assistant manager and into a local Tampa-area employment office, claiming sex discrimination in her store. She had been working at a Jared the Galleria of Jewelry for nearly four years. But it was only in the last few months that she began to understand that the thing that kept happening to her there, the thing that seemed to keep happening to so many of the women there, went beyond the regular, standard-issue sexism she had been hearing about her whole life. But what woman is certain that the problem isn’t her, but them?
She had been with Sterling for nearly 14 years by then. Previously, she was a manager at another Sterling store, a J.B. Robinson, when her husband relocated to Florida for work. She asked the company for a transfer, too, and was offered an assistant-manager position at a Jared that hadn’t yet opened. Jared was a relatively new concept, Sterling’s first stand-alone, nonmall store with high-end everything, a drink when you walked through the door, a sandwich, too, Rolexes that you couldn’t find in any of the mall jewelry shops. Dawn loved jewelry. She loved being a character in her customers’ stories about a happy day of their lives. She was excited about the even higher-end jewelry that Jared would sell. The idea of working with the really good stuff made the demotion palatable. She told me she took the job on the condition that she would be in the running for the first manager post that opened up.
She found out about the pay issue by accident. She had helped recruit Marie Wolf, a woman who had sold a million dollars’ worth of jewelry in one year at the Service Merchandise down the road. According to Dawn, her manager didn’t seem to like Marie, despite the fact that Dawn said she was the top salesperson not just at Service Merchandise but now at Jared as well. She didn’t have “the Jared look,” the manager told Dawn. Marie was tall and wore pants and blouses, not short skirt-suits, and she wore little makeup. One day Marie asked for a raise, and the manager told her she was already making more than any other salesperson in the store.