The chairman of Signet, which owns Sterling Jewelers' Kay and Jared, has responded to allegations of a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination again the retail chains, describing them as a "purported parallel universe," according to The Washington Post.
“The portrait of Signet painted in recent media reports is irreconcilable to me with a company that I have served as director and chairman for more than five years,” Todd Stitzer asserted during a call last week, The Post reported, adding that 68% of Signet's retail management staff and 33% of its executives are female, which he interprets as a reflection of the brand's commitment to equality in the workplace. “This is a complex matter that cannot be reduced to a simple sound bite or clever phrase,” he continued. "The case will be determined primarily by statistical analysis, not salacious claims.”
Meanwhile, Joseph Sellers, the lead counsel on the private class-action arbitration case, maintained that the sworn statements about the alleged sexual harassment paint a different picture. “Sterling knew it was systematically paying women less than men and continues to use the same pay practices today," he told The Post. "The company has tolerated conduct profoundly demeaning to women and still refuses to acknowledge its role in this. The fact that Sterling is trying to split hairs over the legal definition of sexual harassment rather than acknowledging the widespread mistreatment of its employees is indicative of the problem."
This story was originally published on February 28, 2017.
Two major mall stalwarts, Kay Jewelers and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry, are currently facing allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. Employees of the two chains, which both fall under the Sterling Jewelers conglomerate (owned by parent company, Signet), are part of a private class-action arbitration case, per The Washington Post.
According to The Post, among statements from 250 employees (both men and women) are accusations that female employees at Kay and Jared in the 1990s and 2000s were "routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed." Other allegations include being passed over for promotions, wage violations (namely, female staffers were systemically paid lower salaries than their male counterparts), and claims that male managers at certain Sterling Jeweler-owned stores (as well as at the company's Ohio headquarters), "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 writes. Additionally, there are claims from ex-employees that the company's annual, mandatory managers meetings were "boozy, no-spouses-allowed 'sex-fest'[s]" and that female employees at the meetings were "aggressively pursued, grabbed and harassed.
The case was first filed in 2008 by over a dozen female employees the two retailers, alleging gender discrimination in the workplace; at the moment, there are 69,000 individuals (former and current employees) involved in the class action case, which remains unresolved. Many of the statements about harassment and discrimination were written nearly a decade ago, but the employees' lawyers were only able to release them publicly this week, The Post reports .
Sterling, however, is denying the allegations. "Because of our long-term commitment to equal opportunity, we have taken the allegations of pay and promotions discrimination raised in this case very seriously," the company said in a statement provided to Refinery29, noting that over 68% of its management staff is female. "We have thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture."
The company also underscored that the sexual harassment accusations are unfounded: "It’s critical to understand that none of the 69,000 class members have brought claims in this arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual impropriety," they added.
We'll update with any further developments.
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