Sterling Jewelers Under Fire Over Sex Harassment Claims

Sterling Jewelers, parent company of Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, has been hit with class action arbitration suit over claims of rampant sexual harassment and discrimination in the company’s subsidiaries. Sterling operates about 1,500 stores across the country. Sterling requires all workers to waive their right to bring employment-related disputes against their employer in public courts.

The case was originally filed in 2008 with more than a dozen women accusing the company of widespread gender discrimination. The case now includes 69,000 women who are current and former employees of Sterling. One of the original women bringing the case died in 2014. The former and current employees are seeking punitive damages and years of back pay.

The alleged actions took place throughout the late 1990s and 2000s. Declarations from roughly 250 women and men who worked at Sterling allege that female employees were routinely groped and demeaned. Male managers allegedly laughed about women’s bodies in the workplace. The allegations claim that its chief executive and other company leaders of the multibillion-dollar conglomerate presided over a corporate culture that fostered these kinds of behaviors.

The statements allege that top male managers sent scouting parties to stores to find female employees they wanted to sleep with and pushed female subordinates into sex by offering favors or job protection. Female employees were also allegedly urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed. Many of the women in Sterling’s sales force said they felt they had little recourse with their mostly male management.

Most of the sworn statements were written years ago. Attorneys for the employees and the company recently reached an agreement that the documents could be made public on the condition that they not identify any of the individuals to whom conduct was attributed. More than 1,300 pages of sworn statements were released Sunday.

Not all of the 69,000 class members are alleging sexual impropriety. The case also includes allegations of wage violations. Documents filed in the case state that women were systematically paid less than men and passed over for promotions given to less experienced male colleagues.

Sterling has disputed the allegations. Sterling spokesman David Bouffard released a statement saying that company officials “have thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture.” Bouffard added that the company encourages all employees to report any workplace concerns so officials can investigate and respond appropriately.

The statement continued on to say that the company “has created strong career opportunities for many thousands of women working at our stores nationwide” and that the company takes allegations of pay and promotion discrimination seriously. According to a 2015 filing, experts presented by Sterling in arbitration said that the company “devotes adequate resources to manage complaints of unwanted sex-related behavior.” A class hearing is scheduled for early next year.