Report Revives Sterling Sexual Harassment Claims

The company countered that the allegations paint a “negative and distorted” view

On Feb. 27, The Washington Post printed excerpts of recently unsealed declarations from Sterling Jewelers employees alleging sexual harassment and discrimination against women at the company.

The complaints are part of a 9-year-old arbitration charging that Sterling pays female employees less than their male counterparts. The Sterling division of Signet Jewelers oversees the Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry chains.

“The statements allege that top male managers, some at the company’s headquarters near Akron, Ohio, dispatched scouting parties to stores to find female employees they wanted to sleep with, laughed about women’s bodies in the workplace, and pushed female subordinates into sex by pledging better jobs, higher pay, or protection from punishment,” the newspaper wrote.

Signet spokesman David Bouffard told JCK the reports are “distorted and inaccurate.”

He said the allegations involve a “very small number of individuals in a workforce of more than 84,000 during the class period, and many of allegations go back decades. Complaints that were reported to the company were thoroughly investigated, and action was taken where appropriate. The company had—and continues to have—multiple processes in place to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct, and we continue to encourage all employees to use these processes to raise any workplace concerns so we can investigate and respond appropriately.”

He stressed that the arbitration does not include claims of “sexual harassment or sexual impropriety.”

“The only claims certified to proceed on a class-wide basis relate to alleged unintentional gender pay and promotions discrimination,” he said. “Despite years of litigation, millions of pages of documentation, and numerous depositions, claimants’ counsel have chosen not to proceed with sexual harassment claims. These allegations are being publicized by claimants’ counsel to present a distorted, negative image of the company.”

Signet’s full statement can be seen here.

The allegations appearing in the newspaper certainly paint an unflattering portrait.

One woman, a Kay sales associate from 2003 to 2008, said in her declaration that a store manager expected female workers to have sex with him before their careers would be advanced.

Another, a manager of Sterling stores from 2002 to 2008, reportedly wrote that sexual “preying” was routinely done at company events “and appeared to be encouraged, or at least condoned, by the company.”

The story is another black eye for America’s largest jeweler, whose stock has been battered by falling sales, a controversy over its credit, and allegations of stone switching at certain stores. The Post report sent its stock down from around $72 to $65.

A May 2014 JCK article titled “How to Recognize and Combat Discrimination in Your Jewelry Store” includes an interview with former Kay employee.

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JCK News Director

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