Shares of Signet Jewelers are down over 12% on Tuesday after the release of sworn statements made by hundreds of female employees at Sterling Jewelers — a unit of Signet Jewelers — that alleged sexual discrimination took place at the highest levels of the company.
While the statements were released on Sunday, shares didn’t respond until Washington Post reports surfaced Monday evening.
The arbitration was first filed in 2008 by more than a dozen women employed by Sterling. The matter, which was once argued in contractually mandated private arbitration proceedings, has now evolved into a class-action lawsuit including 69,000 women who are current and former employees of Sterling, according to the Washington Post. The trial is expected to begin in October 2017.
Signet Jewelers also owns Zales, Kay Jewelers, and Jared’s Galleria.
Shares of Signet tanked in response to the article, tumbling more than 10% on Tuesday morning.
Signet issued a statement on Tuesday, clarifying that the case involves allegations of gender discrimination and not sexual harassment as the Washington Post reported in its headline.
The release from Signet says that it’s “critical to understand that an arbitration claim was brought against Sterling in 2008 that alleged gender discrimination in pay and promotion. None of the 69,000 class members have brought legal claims in this arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual impropriety.”
The statement continues that the company has “taken the allegations of pay and promotions discrimination raised in this case very seriously. We have thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture.”
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission separately filed a gender-discrimination suit against Sterling a few months after the initial complaint. An aspect of that case — whether the EEOC conducted enough of an investigation before suing — has made its way to the US Supreme Court.
It’s another headache for Signet, which over the past year has fought off accusations of diamond switching and deceptive sales practices.
The company’s share price has fallen by half in less than a year. Shares were halted on Tuesday and the stock saw little change once trading resumed. Signet is down 12.54% at $65.39.