A year after Sterling Jewelers’ Kay Jewelers found itself on the receiving end of thousands of complaints from customers alleging the company swapped out their diamonds for fake ones, hundreds of employees are alleging they were victims of sexual harassment and discrimination at Kay and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry.
A new report from the Washington Post, which has been following the growing case for more than a year, reveals that more than 250 former and current employees of Sterling claim that executives have created a corporate environment where women were groped, demeaned, and urged to engage in sexual acts in order to receive promotions and preferred job placements.
The allegations are part of an arbitration case filed against the company in 2008. The Post obtained many of these arbitration documents, providing a behind-the-scenes peek at what it was like to work for the jewelry conglomerate — which operates 1,500 stores and is owned by Signet Jewelers — over the past two decades.
The Post’s report, which includes testimony from several former and current employees and their lawyers, includes a wealth of information about the company’s business practices and treatment of both male and female employees. Here are 5 things we learned from the report.
1. A DECADE OF ALLEGATIONS
The arbitration case against Sterling was first filed by more than a dozen women in 2008.
While the case originally revolved around gender discrimination, it has grown to include some 69,000 former and current employees and issues including wage theft, sexual harassment, and gender payment gaps.
As with many large companies, Sterling requires employees to waive their rights to bring any employment-related dispute to court. Instead, they must bring the complaints forward through arbitration, which, in this case, required the documents to be designated as confidential.
The Post, which requested documents related to the case starting in 2015, reports that attorneys for the employees and the company reached an agreement recently to make any of the documents public, as long as individuals involved in the alleged misconduct were not named.
2. EXECUTIVES ACCUSED
In all, the Post reviewed 1,300 pages of redacted documents and testimony related to the case. While the names of most individuals were blacked out, a filing from 2013 shows that some top executives had been accused of discrimination.
For example, the employees’ attorneys motion supporting class action status accuses Signet CEO Mark Light of allegedly having sexual relationships with female employees and promoting them based on how they responded to the demands, the Post reports.
Sterling declined to comment on the allegations against Light and others, while Light did not respond to the Post’s request for comment.
3. “SEX-FEST” & OTHER COMPANY EVENTS
The Post reports that many of the allegations revolve around action at the company’s annual managers meeting.
Employees claim in testimony that the mandatory, no-spouses-allowed meeting featured a wealth of alcohol and often turned into a “sex-fest” where women were targets of grabbing and harassment.
The documents also allege that other company events included sexual “preying” that was either encouraged or condoned, the Post reports.
One woman who worked as a manager for the company from 1994 to 2008 recalled male executive 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.”
“If you were even remotely attractive or outgoing, which most salespeople are, you were meat, being shopped,” the woman tells the Post.
4. PERFORM FOR PROMOTIONS
A former employee at a Kay Jeweler outlet tells the Post that when she first started with the company she thought of it as a professional atmosphere where managers would mentor and help employees grow.
While she worked her way up to manager, she tells the Post that she began to witness and experience sexual harassment.
For example, she claims that in 2005 a district manager promised to transfer her to a new store if she had sex with him. She tells the Post that she consented, but only after feeling that she was “backed into a corner.”
5. NO HELP FROM THE HOTLINE
The Post reports that employees who tried to report the misconduct often faced retaliation instead of help.
In some cases, the former employees say in testimony, that the internal hotline led to verbal abuse or termination.
One employee, who worked for the company for five years, claimed that after reporting to superiors that a district manager had tried to kiss and touch her at a manager event, she was accused of theft and fired. She was days away from receiving a $30,000 commission-based bonus, the Post reports.
A spokesman for Sterling tells The Post 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.”
Additionally, the rep says that allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination “involve a very small number of individuals,” and that the arbitration filings “paint a negative and distorted picture of the company.”
As for alleged retaliation, the rep says that those cases were thoroughly investigated and appropriate action was taken.
The former and current employees are requesting unspecified punitive damages and back pay. A class hearing, where the witnesses will be called to testify, is scheduled for next year, the Post reports.