- Signet Jewelers Ltd., parent company of Sterling Jewelers (which owns jewelry chains Kay and Jared), said on Thursday it will add a “respect in the workforce” committee to its board and hire an independent consultant to review its workplace culture, The Wall Street Journal reports.
- The announcement comes just over a week after a Washington Post report citing hundreds of former Sterling Jewelers employees alleging the company fostered a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination. A case starting with 15 women in 2008 has since grown into a 69,000 class-action suit, with sworn statements released this week. Signet has dismissed the claims as “distorted and inaccurate.”
- Amid the allegations, Signet also announced on Thursday that it plans to shutter between 165 and 170 stores in fiscal 2018, targeting underperforming mall-based regional brands. The company will add 90 to 115 stores, consisting primarily of new Kay off-mall stores. For fourth quarter fiscal 2017, the company reported that same store sales declined 4.5% and for the fiscal year, same store sales fell 1.9%.
Executives from Signet spoke out this week for the first time since allegations against the company gained national attention in late February, when hundreds of women spoke in detail to The Washington Post about their experiences at the company — experiences which they say included discrimination in pay and promotional practices, as well as sexual harassment in the workplace. This kind of culture was prevalent throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, they say.
Todd Stitzer, chairman of Signet's board of directors, said on an earnings call Thursday that the allegations describe a “parallel universe,” according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha. But Wall Street isn’t so sure: Signet’s stock dropped to a 52-week low following the report. CEO Mark Light is one of the executives named in the filings for allegedly promoting female employees if they responded positively to sexual advances. He did not address the claims on Thursday's earnings call.
The allegations come at a time when Signet as a whole is facing significant challenges to keep up with changing consumer demand and adopt a digital-focused, omnichannel approach. Many of Signet’s chains, such as Jared’s, Kay and Zales, are traditionally mall-based retailers and are feeling the slowdown in foot traffic.
"We have re-aligned our executive organization structure to sharpen our focus on our customers' channel preferences,” Light said in a statement. “And we are making greater technology investments to improve customers' online experience. Going forward, our digital marketing and presence online will be more pronounced than ever.”