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Sterling Jewelers, the owner of Jared and Kay Jewelers was accused on Monday of fostering sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as discrimination against employees who are female.
The company is going through an arbitration fight that has lasted close to a decade with many former employees alleging that women were pressured to have sex to advance or for protection, were accosted and routinely received lower wages than men.
Many documents for the arbitration case were released on Sunday to the public, including depositions from former employees who claimed they had been preyed upon by colleagues who were male.
The women who made the sworn depositions worked at stores from Nevada to Massachusetts to Florida. This case was declared class action and includes 69,000 former and current employees of Sterling.
The documents suggest there was a culture allowing and encouraging sexual discrimination at all levels, said a member of the law firm that represents the plaintiff.
The stores have a reputation for commercials that are very romantic.
However, the depositions and other documents from the arbitration describe some that are rife with much abuse.
One filing in the case shows where lawyers for the plaintiffs described the company’s corporate atmosphere. The description said the behavior included frequent references to women in vulgar and sexual ways; grabbing and groping of women; solicitation of sexual relations, sometimes in exchange for employment benefits; created an environment at company events that were often mandatory where women were expected to undress in public, accede to overtures related to sex and refrain from any complaining about abusive treatment they had been subjected to.
The document included rape and sexual assault as well.
Sterling has been called the largest specialty jeweler in the U.S. with over 1,300 locations.
One of the lead investigators for a national newspaper that investigated the allegations said that only a small number of current or former employees were involved.
One former employee at Sterling, who is female, described sexual harassment as being routine at the annual meeting of managers.
She said during her 2012 sworn statement, it was very well known by attendees from the company at these meetings that they provided opportunities for drinking and extramarital activities with male supervisors, managers, executives and subordinate managers who were female.
Another female employee who worked between 1992 and 2009 said she discovered on a number of occasions that she had been paid less than employees who were male.