GIA lab updates conduct and ethics policy, names compliance officer

The Gemological Institute of America Gem Trade Laboratory has updated its policies on ethics and conduct and named three persons within the organization to enforce the new procedures.

The actions were taken following an internal investigation by a special committee of GIA’s Board of Governor’s. The investigation was launch in response to a lawsuit by a former Harry Winston employee, Max Pincione, which names GIA as one of four defendants. In his suit, he claims that “payments were made” to GIA to have the two stones “upgraded” at the GIA Gem Trade Laboratory in New York City.

The internal investigation initially led to the mid-October firing of four GIA employees (who were not named) and the resignation of Thomas C. Yonelunas, CEO of GIA Laboratory, even though he was not implicated in any violations of GIA’s Professional Ethics and Conduct Compliance Statement.

This second round of actions were announced Tuesday in a letter from Thomas M. Moses, GIA Laboratory and Research senior vice president, sent to GIA Gem Trade Laboratory clients.

In the letter, GIA said it has done the following:

* Appointed Linda Scholl as vice president of Human Resources and Compliance. Scholl has served as GIA’s chief human resources officer since 2003, and will now oversee the enforcement of GIA’s compliance policies for the laboratory and the enforcement of GIA’s corporate-wide compliance program. She will have under her supervision Eva Carlson as manager of laboratory compliance. Carlson has been serving as manager of legal administration. Both will work closely with GIA’s legal team.

* Promoted Donna M. Baker to senior vice president and general counsel. Baker had been serving as vice president and general counsel. She will continue to oversee GIA’s corporate operations and will ultimately be responsible with Scholl for reporting to the Institute’s Board of Governors on corporate compliance issues.

* Revised the existing GIA Code of Conduct and Professional Ethics Policy to include even more stringent requirements that reflect current industry standards for professional conduct. Employees are now required to report Code of Conduct violations that they may witness or of which they become aware, and failure to do so will result in dismissal.

* Provide annual and mandatory ethics training seminar for all employees beginning this month to highlight the importance of the provisions in the code of conduct and to provide additional information on workplace ethics. This year’s seminar will be led by Thomas O’Neil, a partner at the law firm of DLA Piper Rudnick, who conducted the recent investigation of GIA.

* Reemphasize the current policy in the code of conduct against employees soliciting or receiving compensation in any form from lab clients, including cash and/or non-cash gifts, or entertainment. There are no exceptions to this rule, and any violations will result in immediate dismissal. Any laboratory clients who fail to respect this rule will be stricken from GIA’s client list.

* Provide a way for clients, students, employees, and vendors, a means by which to openly and safely communicate cases of potential misconduct anonymously and confidentially with GIA’s management and board via a toll-free telephone hotline or the Internet through a vehicle known as EthicsPoint—which is a provider of services to support compliance, workplace ethics, and corporate governance. The toll-free phone number in the U.S. and Canada is 866-295-2625. Outside of the U.S. and Canada, please contact a local operator to place a collect call to the following U.S. phone number: 503-726-2269 (only an operator can place the collect call). Multi-lingual support is available and lines are open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The multilingual Web site is www.ethicspoint.com.

According to Moses, “These initiatives are being implemented to tighten GIA standards even further and to ensure that the Institute will continue to serve the industry and the public with pride and excellence.”