Sterling is the parent of Jared and Kay.

About 250 former employees of Sterling Jewelers, which operates Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, Kay Jewelers and Zales, are alleging that the company culture was rife with sexual discrimination and harassment.

The claims are part of an arbitration case that dates to 2008, the Washington Post reported. In total, the class-action arbitration case includes 69,000 women.

Attorneys for the workers released the employee declarations on Sunday. The actions are alleged to have occurred in the late 90s and the 2000s.

According to the Post, the declarations include claims that women were "routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed."

The newspaper noted that "not all of the 69,000 class members are alleging sexual impropriety." In many cases, the allegations are that women "were systematically paid less than men" and denied promotions.

In a statement provided to INSTORE, David Bouffard, spokesman for Akron, OH-based Sterling, said: "We have thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture."

He added: "It’s critical to understand that none of the 69,000 class members have brought claims in this arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual impropriety.  Since the case was filed in 2008, it has never included legal claims of sexual harassment or hostile work environment discrimination. The only claims certified to proceed on a class wide basis relate to alleged unintentional gender pay and promotions discrimination. Despite years of litigation, millions of pages of documentation and numerous depositions, claimants’ counsel have chosen not to proceed with sexual harassment claims. These allegations are being publicized by claimants’ counsel to present a distorted, negative image of the company."

Joseph Sellers, lead counsel for the claimants, told CNN Money that the documents "suggest a culture that allowed and even encouraged sexual discrimination at every level." The documents can be viewed at the website for Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

Sterling is part of UK-based Signet Jewelers (NYSE: SIG). In the U.S., the company's stock plunged following publication of the Post's story.

Shares were down 9.28 percent to $66.12 early Tuesday afternoon. Before Tuesday, the 52-week low was $67.43, the Akron Beacon Journal noted.

Beyond the stock market, there's the potential public relations fall-out. Some social media users have already been expressing their opinions.

Twitter user @coil780 tweeted a link to the Post story and wrote: "We got my wife's engagement ring from an independent jeweler. Regret buying my wedding ring from @KayJewelers now."

The story has been a hot topic online within the industry.

In a Facebook post, Steve Hartz, president of SHR Precious Metals in Florida, encouraged his colleagues to avoid too much negativity. He granted INSTORE permission to excerpt from the post, which he made in the closed Jewelers Helping Jewelers group. 

"Always remember you can be successful without wishing negative things and celebrating gossip and allegations that is being written about the biggest jeweler in the world," he wrote. "I would never wish anything but good things for all of you. Ask yourself this -- would your store be better off with Kay being out of business? Do you think that if your store were the only jeweler in a large mall that it is a plus or a minus for you? People, let's focus on our success. We don't need to celebrate or hope for others' failures for us to be successful."

Read more at the Washington Post

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