Sterling Jewelers fought back against assertions of sexual harassment made as part of long-running arbitration over gender discrimination claims by female employees, saying a “distorted” image of the company has been created.
The Washington Post published a 3,000-word article diving into arbitration claims by a class of female employees that were allegedly denied raises and promotions as part of a male-dominated executive culture that objectified and openly harassed women.
Sterling pointed out in a statement that it is not being formally accused of sexual harassment.
“None of the 69,000 class members have brought legal claims in this arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual impropriety,” Sterling said. “Since its filing, [the case] has never included legal claims of sexual harassment or hostile work environment discrimination.”
Claims by current and former employees certified to continue at a class-wide level against Sterling, which operates jewelry chains Jared and Kay Jewelers, are those alleging pay and promotion discrimination based on gender.
“Despite years of litigation, millions of pages of documentation and numerous depositions, claimants’ counsel have chosen not to file sexual harassment claims,” Sterling said. “These allegations publicized by claimants’ counsel and reported in the media create a distorted, negative image of the company.”
As for the discrimination claims being arbitrated, Sterling said it takes them “very seriously” but after an internal investigation, has “concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture.”
Reporting by The Post was largely based off of about 250 individual declarations taken during arbitration of the discrimination claims, which include incident accounts throughout the Nineties and Aughts of female Sterling employees being “groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed.”
Although arbitration of the discrimination claims is ongoing and private, class lawyers were permitted for the first time to release certain documents this weekend, with information capable of identifying any party being accused redacted.
Claims were first brought in 2008 by about a dozen employees in a New York federal court, but the case was moved to arbitration as a result of employment agreements.
While the crux of the arbitration rests on allegations that women were routinely denied pay increases and promotions by a mostly male management force, The Post recounted stories of sexual harassment.
While Sterling said in its Tuesday statement that it had and continues to have “multiple processes in place to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct,” some former employees alleged in their declarations that when they reported issues of harassment or misconduct it did no good, according to The Post.
Today, Sterling said it is a company “guided by our core values of fairness, opportunity, integrity and respect and has created strong career opportunities for many thousands of women working at our stores nationwide.”
A hearing in the arbitration case is scheduled for next year.