Hundreds of former employees of Sterling Jewelers, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate behind Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, claim that its chief executive and other company leaders presided over a corporate culture that fostered rampant sexual harassment and discrimination, according to arbitration documents obtained by The Washington Post.
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. Sterling disputes the allegations.
The arbitration was first filed in 2008 by more than a dozen women who accused the company of widespread gender discrimination. The class-action case, still unresolved, now includes 69,000 women who are current and former employees of Sterling, which operates about 1,500 stores across the country.
Most of the sworn statements were written years ago, but the employees’ attorneys were only granted permission to release them publicly Sunday evening. One of the original women who brought the case, those lawyers said, died in 2014 as proceedings crawled on without resolution.
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.
Though women made up a large part of Sterling’s sales force, many said they felt they had little recourse with their mostly male management. Sanya Douglas, a Kay sales associate and manager in New York between 2003 and 2008, said a manager even had a saying for male leaders coaxing women into sexual favors to advance their careers, calling it “going to the big stage.”
“If you didn’t do what he wanted with him,” she said in the 2012 sworn statement, “you wouldn’t get your (preferred) store or raise.”
Sterling spokesman David Bouffard told The Post in a statement Monday 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.”
The company “has created strong career opportunities for many thousands of women working at our stores nationwide” and takes allegations of pay and promotion discrimination seriously, with “multiple processes in place to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct,” Bouffard said.
Allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination “involve a very small number of individuals,” he said, adding that their claims were included in arbitration filings by employees’ attorneys “to paint a negative and distorted picture of the company.”
In arbitration, Sterling presented experts it said had reviewed some employee allegations and concluded that the company “devotes adequate resources to manage complaints of unwanted sex-related behavior,” according to a 2015 filing.