Signet tumbles after report of harassment at subsidiary

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

Shares of Signet Jewelers fell sharply Tuesday after a report of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at a subsidiary.

The Washington Post first reported the allegations Monday, based on newly released class-action arbitration filings.

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According to the report, Sterling Jewelers discriminated against female employees, paying them less than their male counterparts for the same work and promoting them less frequently. About 250 female employees also testified in the arbitration filings that male managers and executives engaged in rampant sexual harassment for years.

Sterling, based in Akron, Ohio, denied the allegations Tuesday and called media reports "distorted and inaccurate."

Kalpana Kotagal, a lawyer for the female employees, said it is a pay and promotion discrimination case. The women's testimony of sexual harassment by male superiors shows that there was an open and intentionally hostile culture toward female employees at Sterling and its subsidiaries, she said.

A private arbitrator ruled that about 69,000 current and former female sales associates of mall jewelry stores Kay and Jared, which are owned by Sterling, can sue for discrimination and back wages.

Lawyers for the women expect the case, originally brought in 2008, to go to trial this fall.

Shares of Signet were down more than 12 percent in afternoon trading to levels not seen in four years.