A group of investors in Signet Jewelers Ltd. common stock won class certification in their suit in New York federal court, where they claimed the diamond jewelry retailer and some of its executives had misled them about the health of a credit program and also hid its alleged issues about workplace harassment.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon granted the investors’ motion for class certification on Wednesday, saying they had adequately brought up “common questions of law and fact” to proceed as a class. The class would include those who had bought Signet stock during a years-long period from August 2013, according to court documents.
“This case can be adjudicated just as any other ordinary securities class action would: by analyzing whether the belated disclosure of the massive scope of the legal challenge facing Signet caused the company’s stock to fall through the floor,” Judge McMahon wrote in her ruling.
A spokesman for Signet said it’s the company’s policy not to comment on legal matters. An attorney for the plaintiffs declined to comment.
The credit program in question was run by Signet subsidiary Sterling Jewelers Inc. for its customers. Sterling Jewelers operates Jared and Kay jewelers.
As the company began to publicly disclose its earnings issues, its stock price took the blow, hurting investors, the plaintiffs had claimed.
The company had described the credit program as “strong” and “conservatively managed,” but some 45 percent of the portfolio included subprime loans, according to court documents. In May 2017, when it announced the sale of its part of its credit portfolio, its stock dropped by nearly 8 percent that day, according to court documents.
And it wasn’t until December 2017 that Signet revealed that its lending practices were being investigated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the New York Attorney General, the plaintiffs said. That disclosure led to a 3.5 percent stock drop, the investors claimed. In March 2018, when Signet announced it was selling its subprime portfolio, its stock price sank by 20.2 percent, according to court documents.
The investors also pointed to ongoing legal proceedings involving accusations of gender discrimination by current and former Sterling employees, claiming the company had kept in them in the dark about alleged workplace gender discrimination and harassment issues.
That lawsuit, filed in 2008 as a proposed class action by the employees, was sent to arbitration, but legal issues related to that arbitration are ongoing. News reports in 2017 of the gender discrimination allegations had also hurt company stock, the investors had claimed. In February 2017, when Signet issued a statement saying that media coverage of the allegations portrayed a “distorted and inaccurate picture of our company,” it nonetheless sent the company’s stock dropping by 13 percent that day, the investors said. Over the past five years, the stock has gone from as high as $150 a share, to a low of just over $16. Shares closed at $18.14 Tuesday.
Signet had previously sought to dismiss the investors’ suit, but the court denied its motion in November.