Selling Diamonds Comes With a Risk of Sexual Harassment, Lawsuit Alleges

March 1st 2017

Nicole Levin

Advertisers tell us that diamonds are a girl's best friend, but it seems that diamond stores are not. Sterling Jewelersthe multi-billion dollar conglomerate that owns Kay Jewelers, Zales, and Jared is facing a class action lawsuit accusing it of gender discrimination. If that wasn't enough, statements from the lawsuit released this weekend claim that high level managers demanded sex from female employees in return for promotions. 

Kay Jewelers

The lawsuit, as reported by ATTN: last year, was initially filed by 250 employees in 2008. It has since grown into a class action suit representing 69,000 current and former employees. The lawsuit accuses Sterling of wage discrimination and creating a culture where women are sexually exploited. 

Details of this exploitation were released on Sunday when The Washington Post gained access to 1,300 pages of sworn statements from those part of the suit. 

The statements, according to the Post, claim that top male managers promised female employees jobs, promotions, and "protection from punishment" in return for sex. The statements implicate people at the top of the company. Managers based in the headquarters of Akron, Ohio, for instance, sent out "scouting parties" to find female employees "that they wanted to sleep with." Mark Light, now the chef executive of Signet Jewelry (Sterling's parent company), is also accused of basing promotions on how well female employees responded to sexual demands. 

The statements describe mandatory annual meetings for managers as boozy "sex-fests" where spouses were not allowed and "women were aggressively pursued, grabbed, and harassed," the Post reports. 

Heather Ballou, a former employee at a Kay retail outlet in Florida, told the Post that during one of these annual meetings a district manager forced himself on her and tried to kiss her. She detailed the incident on an internal hotline — and days later was accused of stealing from her store and fired. According to the Post, other employees who reported abuse through internal hotlines were fired and threatened. 

Sterling denies these allegations. 

David Bouffard, vice president of corporate affairs at Signet, told ATTN: that "since the case was filed in 2008, it has never included legal claims of sexual harassment or hostile work environment discrimination" and that the class wide claims relate to gender pay and promotions discrimination. 

Sterling operates around 1,500 stores across the United States and employees roughly 18,000 people. According to Bouffard, 68 percent of store managers are female. ​

Bouffard also claimed that Sterling has "thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by facts and certainly do not reflect [its] culture." Furthermore, Bouffard said, "complaints that were reported to the company were thoroughly investigated, and action was taken where approproate."