If you anti-establishment types out there need one more reason why you can’t buy your sweetie a diamond lest you sully your fiercely anti-capitalist love by feeding it into the soulless maw of consumer culture, here’s a good one: Sterling Jewelers, the jewelry conglomerate that owns shopping-mall staples Kay Jewelers and Jared The Galleria Of Jewelry, is now the subject of a class-action lawsuit alleging ”rampant sexual harassment and discrimination” at the company, according to The Washington Post. The case involves more than 69,000 women, alleging improprieties ranging from wage discrimination to blatant offers to exchange promotions for sexual favors (or, as Kay Jewelers management allegedly called it, “going to the big stage”).
The suit includes declarations from about 250 former employees, both male and female, who testify that female employees were “routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed“ at the company throughout the 1990s and ‘00s. The suit itself is nothing new—arbitration was first filed back in 2008—but employees and their attorneys were only granted permission to speak publicly about the allegations last night. Like they do at many U.S. companies that require arbitration as a condition of employment, Sterling Jewelers employees waive the right to bring their employers to public court when they sign their contracts, leaving the process up to the secretive private arbitration system.
The allegations read like the stuff of frat-house nightmares, including charges that senior management sent out “scouting parties” to stores in order to find women that the toxic douchebags at the company’s Akron, Ohio headquarters might want to sleep with, openly making comments about the mostly female sales staffs’ bodies and pressuring them into sex while they were there. Oh, and let’s not forget the allegations of annual managers’ meetings where, according to WaPo, “attendance was mandatory and women were aggressively pursued, grabbed, and harassed.” (In her statement, one ex-employee described executives who “prowled around the (resort) like dogs that were let out of their cage and there was no one to protect the female managers from them.”) Anyone who complained about such treatment, the suit alleges, was subject to punishment; one woman claims she was accused of theft and fired after rejecting the advances of a manager old enough to be her father.
Brings a sinister new meaning to “every kiss begins with Kay,” doesn’t it?