Hundreds of current and former female employees of Sterling Jewelers, the corporation that operates approximately 1,500 Kay and Jared Jewelry stores across the nation, have made sworn statements against the company containing serious allegations. The statements, made as part of a still unresolved private class-action arbitration case, were recently made public, with the names of the accused redacted.
The Washington Post reports that many of the allegations stem from behavior that occurred during the late 1990s and 2000s and an arbitration first filed in 2008 by more than ten women. According to the Post, the class now includes more than 65,000 women who are current or former employees of Sterling. They are seeking back pay and punitive damages.
The sworn declarations of the women along with quotes from the article are startling, in part because of the persistent nature of the conduct alleged and the senior executives accused of participating in it. One allegation against a high-level executive accuses him of “having sex with female employees and promoting women based upon how they responded to sexual demands.”
Still, other employees point to the yearly managers meeting as a source of harassment calling it “a boozy, no-spouses-allowed “sex-fest” where attendance was mandatory, and women were aggressively pursued, grabbed and harassed. Routine sexual “preying” at company events “was done out in the open and appeared to be encouraged, or at least condoned, by the company.”
At Leeds Brown Law, P.C., our employment discrimination and sexual harassment attorneys in New York make it a priority to stay on top of important cases as they evolve. One such case spotlights some of the issues that continue to plague women in the workplace, despite the existence of laws that prohibit sexual harassment and demand equality.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination based on sex and also prohibits sexual harassment. When an employer considers gender when making an employment-related decision, it may be unlawful sex discrimination.
Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination and can occur in one of two ways. Quid pro quo harassment is when a superior promises something or threatens something employment-related in exchange for a sexual favor or participation in a sexual act. Quid pro quo sex harassment usually involves a superior and subordinate. Hostile work environment occurs when any co-worker or others at your place of business subject the victim to unwelcome sexual advances, comments, jokes, pictures or other unwanted lewd behavior. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against any worker who complains or tries to put a stop to sex harassment or discrimination.
Not all employees involved in the action experienced sexual harassment. Some claim they were victims of “wage violations, arguing women were systematically paid less than men and passed over for promotions given to less experienced male colleagues.” Kristen Henry, a former employee, told the Post that when she refused her district manager’s attempts to kiss and touch her, and reported his conduct to his supervisors, she was “falsely accused of theft and quickly fired.”
The Post reports that many men who are not part of the class filed sworn declarations in support of the women and their allegations. Richard Suman, who worked for Sterling from 1992-2005 said in his statement that “This culture of sexism and womanizing was so prevalent that female management employees were pressured to acquiesce and participate.” He supported this statement with specific recollections of unlawful conduct.
The outcome of the arbitration remains to be seen, but perhaps this matter is most important because it demonstrates some of the most significant concerns that Title VII tries to address. Sexual harassment and fear of retaliation are real issues that continue to plague women in the workplace. Some corporations or industries maintain a culture of bias and harassment that continues to cause obstacles for female employees. Reporting the conduct and seeking compensation is one way to hold these employers accountable for their actions and raise awareness that the problems still exist.
Leeds Brown is a full-service employment discrimination firm representing clients in New York City, Long Island and the entire metro area. Call us for a free case evaluation at 1-800-585-4658 if you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment, gender discrimination or that your workplace rights have been violated.