A crude ‘boys’ club’: Sworn testimony alleges culture of sexual harassment at the world’s largest jewelry retailer

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Executives and managers at Sterling Jewelers – the parent company of Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry – are accused of creating a work environment in which sexual harassment and discrimination against women went nearly unchecked.

That’s according to 1,300 pages of sworn testimony from current and former employees released Sunday and obtained by The Washington Post.

The documents are part of a private class-action arbitration case and contain statements from over 250 men and women who were Sterling employees. Some accused the company of fostering a workplace culture that marginalized and objectified women.

The case includes accusations of sexual harassment at Kay and Jared properties from the late 1990s to the 2000s.

Some of the women involved in the class action allege, among other things, that they were goaded into complying with demands for sexual favors in order to keep their jobs or be considered for pay raises and promotions, The Post wrote.

Business Insider’s Linette Lopez reported on the case in September. In a statement to Business Insider at the time, the company said it has created opportunities for “many thousands of women” and said it “stands by its core values of fairness, opportunity, integrity, and respect.”

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A Zales jewelry store worker looks at watches in San Bruno, Calif.
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AP/Paul Sakuma

The arbitration was originally filed back in 2008 by over a dozen women who accused the company of widespread gender discrimination. The attorneys were only recently allowed to release their statements Sunday. Nearly 70,000 women have since joined the class action, though not all of them allege sexual misconduct, The Post noted.

Some of the harassment claims include allegations that male managers, including those at stores near the company’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio, sent “scout parties” to stores looking for female employees to sleep with, according to the testimony cited by The Post. Male managers were also accused of laughing about women’s bodies, and coerced female employees into sexual acts by promising higher pay, protection from punishment, and better jobs.

Events described in the testimony included an annual company retreat that was described as a “boozy, no-spouses-allowed ‘sex-fest,'”” an affair that the documents said was mandatory, The Post reported. Women employees in attendance “were aggressively pursued, grabbed and harassed,” the newspaper reported.

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Shoppers walk by a Kay Jewelers and Zales Jewelers stores at the Serramonte Mall on February 19, 2014 in Daly City, California.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Melissa Corey, a store manager in Massachusetts and Florida between 2002 and 2008 said sexual “preying” on female employees “was done out in the open and appeared to be encouraged, or at least condoned, by the company.”

Ellen Contaldi, a Sterling manager in Massachusetts between 1994 and 2008, alleged that male executives “prowled” the event. “I didn’t like being alone, anywhere,” Contaldi said.

“I used to dread going. If you were even remotely attractive or outgoing, which most salespeople are, you were meat, being shopped.” Contaldi said “there was no discipline,” to the male employees behavior, “you were on your own.”

Another manager described the company as a “crude boys’ club.”

David Bouffard, a spokesman for Sterling Jewelers, told The Washington Post the company had “thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture.”

Bouffard added the sexual harassment and discrimination claims “involve a very small number of individuals” whose filed claims were attempting “to paint a negative and distorted picture of the company.” Bouffard added Sterling Jewelers “has created strong career opportunities for many thousands of women working at our stores nationwide” and has “multiple processes in place to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post »