- Scores of former and current employees of Sterling Jewelers, the parent company of Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, claim the company’s executives oversaw a culture in which discrimination and sexual harassment were rampant, The Washington Post reports.
- Originally, about 250 women and men filed declarations in a class action arbitration claim in 2008. Female employees alleged that, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, their bosses demeaned them, groped them and urged them to have sex to keep their jobs, get promoted and avoid disciplinary action.
- Top-level executives reportedly dispatched scouting parties to retailers in the jewelry chain to find female employees to sleep with, ridiculed female workers’ bodies and coerced subordinates into sexual encounters, the Post says. Sterling denies all allegations and the case remains unsettled.
The allegations are deeply troubling. The class action arbitration suit now includes 69,000 women, both current and past employees. Sterling will be hard pressed to defend itself against sexual discrimination charges from so many claimants.
The important questions are how did a culture of discrimination and sexual misconduct occur, and why didn’t the company respond to complaints as they emerged?
If Sterling had conducted an internal investigation when employees first came forward, it might have been able to assure aggrieved employees that it won’t tolerate sexual harassment and discrimination, that violators would be disciplined and that it would overhaul the current culture.
HR observers (and the general public) have debated the root cause of widespread cultural problems and how such systemic issues can be prevented in the first place. Among the most probable culprits is a lack of female leadership at the executive level. Societal issues like gender stereotypes and unconscious biases don't really help, either.