Signet Jewelers is trying to make good on claims that it provides a workplace respectful of all employees in the wake of public accounts of discrimination and harassment by female workers.
As part of a newly formed, all-female committee focused on respect in the workplace, Signet has selected Barbara Jones, a former federal judge with the Southern District of New York and a current partner with Bracewell LLP, to carry out a “thorough review” of Signet’s corporate policies surrounding equal opportunity and workplace expectations.
Helen McCluskey, a Signet director and chair of the new committee, said Jones’ “integrity is impeccable” and noted that her legal career has been focused on workplace compliance issues.
“Judge Jones will help us ensure our programs are functioning as intended and to identify areas where we can further improve,” McCluskey added.
Jones was nominated to the federal courts in 1995 by President Bill Clinton and served for 16 years before going into private practice. Her legal work is now geared toward litigation, internal investigations and white-collar defense work.
One of her most notable cases as a federal judge is Windsor vs. United States, in which Jones ruled that the section of the Defense of Marriage Act codifying non-recognition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, a decision that was eventually affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 2013 ruling.
Jones also presided over arbitration between profession football player Ray Rice and the NFL, which moved to suspend indefinitely over a domestic assault of his wife Janay Palmer when video footage of the incident was released.
Since the league had already suspended Rice for two games after he disclosed the incident to management, Jones found that a repeat suspension for the same offense was akin to double jeopardy, and ordered Rice to be reinstated to the NFL.
Jones could not be reached for comment on her new work with Signet.
Signet’s move to review its internal policies comes after about 250 individual declarations made in 2013 by male and female employees of its subsidiary Sterling Jewelers recounted numerous instances of sexual harassment by higher-ups and executives.
The declarations were made as part of ongoing arbitration accusing Sterling of denying women higher pay and promotions.
Although the declarations were under seal until February, The Washington Post revealed detailed accounts by female former Signet employees involved in the arbitration of incidents in the Nineties and early Aughts where they witnessed others or were subject to being “groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed,” among other incidents.
While Signet has stressed that the arbitration, which includes approximately 69,000 female employees, does not include any formal claims of harassment, it’s nevertheless attempting to align its image as an equality-conscious company.
Signet took the opportunity during a recent financial call with Wall Street analysts discussing its yearly financial results to provide “context” on the case, after denying any harassment or discrimination took place and citing strict corporate policies against both that have been “in place for decades.”
Investors weren’t satisfied with that explanation, and in late March a group sued the company, claiming it’s did little beyond “deny and downplay” that allegations until they received more public attention after the declarations were released.
A group of women initially filed suit against Sterling in New York federal court in 2008, but the case was moved to arbitration as a result of employment agreements.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment.
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