Women Bring Sex Discrimination Suit against Jewelry Company

Sexual HarassmentThey say "diamonds are a girl's best friend" — but a jewelry chain that sells diamonds has been accused of creating a hostile work environment for women.

As reported by the New York Times, hundreds of former employees have joined a class action arbitration against Sterling Jewelers, the parent company of "Jared the Galleria of Jewelry" and Kay Jewelers.

Sterling operates about 1,500 stores in the US.

According to the Times,

One woman says she was pulled into the lap of a manager and groped after a night of drinking sponsored by the company. Others say they reported sexual harassment, only to be ignored.

Signet Jewelers Limited, the parent company of Sterling, said that it has investigated the women's claims and found them to be "without merit."

Mark Light, now the chief executive of Signet, is one of the men accused of having sex with female employees and promoting them based on their response to his sexual demands.

The story was first revealed by the Washington Post, which reported:

Declarations from roughly 250 women and men who worked at Sterling, filed as part of a private class-action arbitration case, allege that female employees at the company throughout the late 1990s and 2000s were routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed.

Pool Parties

According to the Post,

Many of the most striking allegations stem from the company’s annual managers meetings, which former employees described as a boozy, no-spouses-allowed “sex-fest” where attendance was mandatory and women were aggressively pursued, grabbed and harassed.

Multiple witnesses told attorneys that they saw Light “being entertained” as he watched and joined nude and partially undressed female employees in a swimming pool...

Class Action

In 2008, more than a dozen women filed an arbitration claim against the company. This grew into a class action including 69,000 women who are current and former Sterling employees.

A company spokesman said that the allegations “involve a very small number of individuals.”

Many of the declarations were written years ago, but the attorneys for the plaintiffs were only recently given permission to release them.

According to the Post,

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.

Some of the members of the plaintiff class are accusing Sterling of violating wage laws, by systematically paying women less than men and passing them over for promotions — in favor of less-experienced men.

Arbitration Clauses

Sterling, like many other companies, requires its employees to sign employment agreements that include a clause in which they agree to resolve any disputes via arbitration rather than litigation.

(I wrote about arbitration clauses in sexual harassment cases in this blog post.)

Many newer employment contracts and other agreement now include clauses prohibiting claims from being brought as class actions.

A Republican bill would make class action lawsuits nearly impossible.

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