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article imageAllegations of rampant harassment at two US jewelers: report

By AFP     Feb 27, 2017 in World

Hundreds of female employees at two well-known US jewelers are alleging that company leaders fostered a culture of discrimination and frequent sexual harassment, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Employees at Kay Jewelers and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry -- whose 1,500-some stores dot malls and shopping centers across the United States -- say that even the highest level of corporate management, including the CEO of the multibillion-dollar conglomerate that owns the two stores, contributed to the atmosphere.

Around 250 women and men who worked at the conglomerate, called Sterling, are alleging in a private, class-action arbitration case that women were groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their office superiors in return for continued employment or promotions during the late 1990s and 2000s, the Post said.

Kay's motto, which accompanies all of its television advertisements, is "Every kiss begins with Kay."

Since the arbitration was filed in 2008 by a handful of women, it has swollen to include some 69,000 current and former female employees, many of whom allege they were paid less than male counterparts and passed over for promotions that went to less-experienced men.

Sterling disputes the allegations, but because the matter is being settled by arbitration rather than in the US court system, little transparency exists as to the details of the still unresolved case.

On Sunday, some 1,300 pages of sworn statements -- with the names of the accused redacted -- were released.

However, a 2013 memorandum in which employees' attorneys pushed for class certification reveals that Mark Light, now the chief executive of Sterling's parent company Signet Jewelers, is accused of having sex with employees and promoting of women based on their acquiescence.

Light, 54, earned about $7.4 million in salary, stock and bonuses in fiscal year 2016, the Post reported.

Some of the biggest complaints stemmed from yearly managers meetings, described as a mandatory "sex-fest" where women were aggressively chased down, groped and harassed.

One woman described how in 2005 a district manager told her he would transfer her to a better store if she had sex with him, and she complied.

"Looking back, I can't believe I did some of the things I had to do," Heather Ballou, 41, told the paper. "You suck it up and do what you have to do for your family. You need this job."

Many employees who reported abuse on an internal hotline soon found themselves without jobs, the Post said.

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