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Updated 15 minutes ago
The parent company of Sterling Jewelers, which owns Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, halted trading in its stock Tuesday after shares plunged to a four-year low.
The Washington Post reported on Monday evening that about 250 former employees allege in sworn statements that the company's chief executive and other leaders fostered a culture of rampant sexual harassment and discrimination.
The statements are part of a private class-action arbitration case that now involves 69,000 current and former employees.
Female workers at the American retailing giant, known for advertising slogans such as “Every kiss begins with Kay,” were routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed, according to the sworn statements. Sterling is itself owned by Signet Jewelers, which disputes the allegations.
On Tuesday, Signet's stock fell more than 8 percent Tuesday to about $66.85 a share, right before trading was halted. The company said an announcement was pending.
Signet said the allegations of harrassment in the sworn statements “are being publicized by claimants' counsel to present a distorted, negative image of the company.”
But the attorneys for the employees argue that the sex harassment claims are critical to the case because they describe a corporate culture in which women were undervalued or demeaned.
Names of managers and executives were redacted by Signet in the sworn statements. Most of those declarations were written years ago, but the employees' attorneys were granted permission to release them publicly Sunday evening.
A 2013 memorandum, which was made public, showed witnesses claiming that Signet's chief executive, Mark Light, was among those accused of having sex with female employees and promoting women based upon how they responded to sexual demands.
The class-action case was first filed in 2008 and remains unresolved. One of the original women who brought the case died in 2014 as proceedings crawled on, attorneys for the employees said.
Light did not respond to requests for comment. The company did not make him available for interviews. Signet declined to address questions about specific allegations made by former employees against Light and other managers.
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