Breakingviews -Signet’s gender defense rings hollow

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By Jennifer Saba | NEW YORK

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) – Signet’s gender
defense rings hollow. The jeweler’s acknowledgement of a 2008
class-action suit alleging pay discrimination helped push its
stock down 13 percent. A muddy rejection of sexual-harassment
allegations didn’t help. The main problem, though, is that
Signet’s long-winded statement raises more questions than it
provides reassurances.

A unit of the company behind chain stores Kay Jewelers,
Zales and H. Samuel is involved in an arbitration case involving
69,000 members. Signet’s statement was made in response to
claims that some people involved in the case were groped and
demeaned, among other actions, according to a Washington Post
report on Monday.

Signet has denied the charges of sexual harassment and that
it promoted an environment of hostility toward women. It added
that it has investigated the pay issue and concluded that the
claims are “not substantiated by the facts.” Still, its waffling
response didn’t assure investors who are probably concerned that
Signet may be on the hook for unknown sums of back wages.

If anything, Signet’s attempt to defend its work culture has
drawn more attention to the scale of the lawsuit which it
describes as involving “years of litigation” and “millions of
pages of documentation.” An assertion that 68 percent of the
company’s store management is composed of women is also an odd
defense, suggesting Signet thinks a female employment ratio is
somehow evidence of a healthy working environment. It is not.

For an almost decade-old lawsuit, Signet might have had a
more succinct response prepared. In the absence, a short
statement denying the charges may have been a better answer.

On Twitter twitter.com/jennifersaba

CONTEXT NEWS

– Signet Jewelers issued a statement on Feb. 28 about a
class-action lawsuit brought against its subsidiary Sterling
Jewelers in 2008 that alleged gender discrimination in pay and
promotion.

– The company said that it had thoroughly investigated the
allegations of pay and promotions discrimination raised and
concluded they are not substantiated by facts.

– It addition, Signet said that “none of the 69,000 class
members have brought legal claims in this arbitration for sexual
harassment or sexual impropriety.”

– The Washington Post reported on Feb. 27 that some members
of the class-action lawsuit claimed they were sexually harassed.
The report said former and current employees are seeking
punitive damages and years of back pay. The arbitration class
hearing is scheduled for early next year.

– “Despite years of litigation, millions of pages of
documentation and numerous depositions, claimants’ counsel have
chosen not to file sexual harassment claims. These allegations
publicized by claimants’ counsel and reported in the media
create a distorted, negative image of the company,” Signet
added.

– Shares of Signet, whose brands include Kay Jewelers, Zales
and H. Samuel, fell 13 percent on Tuesday.
(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions
expressed are her own.)



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