Sterling Jewelers discrimination class action lawsuit sees light
Sterling Jewelers, the US jeweler under Signet Jewelers, is under fire following claims that the company exhibited a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination in the late 1990s and 2000s. Sterling's portfolio includes the Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers retail chains, and operates some 1,500 retail stores across the U.S.
The Washington Post broke the story on Monday that 250 women and men allege that female employees were “routinely groped, demeaned, and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed.” Sterling is also accused of wage violations, including giving men promotions over more experienced women and paying women less than their male colleagues. A dozen women first filed arbitration in 2008, and now the class-action case includes 69,000 women, including women who are currently employed by Sterling.
The story became public knowledge after attorneys were granted permission to publicly release over 1,300 pages of sworn statements, most of which are years old.
Many top executives at the company, including current Signet CEO Mark Light, are accused of “having sex with female employees and promoting women based upon how well they responded to sexual demands,” according to the Washington Post, and sworn statements allege that Sterling’s annual managers meetings were “boozy, no-spouses allowed ‘sex-fest’ where attendance was mandatory and women were aggressively pursued, grabbed and harassed.”
Sterling Jewelers issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the arbitration claim that was issued in 2008 was about “gender discrimination in pay and promotion” and had nothing to do with “sexual harassment or sexual impropriety.”
“Indeed, the distorted and inaccurate picture of our company presented in these allegations does not represent who we are,” said the statement. “They involve a very small number of individuals in a workforce of more than 84,000 during the class period, and many allegations go back decades. The company takes any concerns seriously and had - and continues to have - multiple processes in place to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct. We continue to encourage all employees to use these processes to raise any workplace concerns so we can investigate and take appropriate action.”
The company added that it is guided by its “core values of fairness, opportunity, integrity and respect,” and that over 68% of its store management staff is female as a result of its employment and advancement programs.
Founded in 1910, Sterling Jewelers is a subsidiary of UK-based Signet Jewelers. Signet acquired the Akron, Ohio-based company in 1987.
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