Stores like Kay’s, Jared, Zales & Stirling are hitting a rocky road
Steve’s breakdown: Words like “rampant sexual harassment and discrimination” are coming full speed at these brands and they have to figure their communications out now.
AKRON, OH: Sterling Jewelers Inc., the company that operates mall mainstays Kay Jewelers, Zales and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, is being accused by hundreds of former employees of fostering an atmosphere of “rampant sexual harassment and discrimination,” according to a bombshell Washington Post report.
The class-action arbitration case includes 69,000 current and former female employees, the Post reported Monday, and includes statements from more than 250 former employees alleging a culture of harassment over two decades starting in the 1990s. The original complaint went to arbitration in 2008, the Post said, but it was not until Sunday that 1,300 pages of sworn testimony were released publicly. Because the arbitration case is private, it is not known why it has taken so long to resolve.
Not all 69,000 women are alleging harassment, but many accuse the company of sexual bias, wage discrimination and being unfairly passed over for promotions.
According to the Post, the statements from former employees allege that male store managers, including some who worked at Sterling’s Akron, Ohio, headquarters, would send “scouting parties” to stores to find female employees they wanted to have sex with, would mock women’s bodies in the office, and coerce female employees into sex by offering them pay raises, promotions or protection from reprisals.
They also recount “preying parties” at the company’s annual managers meeting, described as a “boozy, no-spouses-allowed ‘sex fest’” where women were aggressively groped and harassed.
One woman, a former Sterling manager, described to the Post male colleagues who “prowled around the (resort) like dogs that were let out of their cage and there was no one to protect the female managers from them.”
Women who complained about their treatment were allegedly punished, and one woman said she was accused of theft and fired after reporting a superior’s sexual advances.
A 2013 filing in the case revealed a number of top executives, including Mark Light, the current chief executive of Sterling’s parent company, Signet Jewelers Ltd., were accused of basing promotions of women on how they responded to their sexual advances, the Post said.
Sterling denied the accusations in a statement to the Post, saying the company has “thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture.” The company said a number of allegations by a “very small number of individuals” were included in the arbitration to paint a “negative and distorted” picture of the company.
Joseph M. Sellers, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, told the Post that the statements provide “breathtaking evidence of ways in which women were mistreated in the workplace.”
“It was terribly demeaning to them as women,” he said.
Sterling Jewelers has about 1,500 stores and 18,000 employees around the U.S. Last year, its parent Signet SIG, -10.35% said in an annual report that it could face “substantial damages” if it loses the case. Signet is the world’s top diamond jewelry retailer, and posted $6 billion in sales in 2015. Signet shares are down more than 21% over the past three months, and more than 26% in the past year.