A New York Times Magazine story that was released in late-April highlights the massive gender pay gap among sales associates at the many chain jewelry stores around America. Signet Jewelry, the parent company of a company called Sterling Jewelry, which owns thousands of chain stores like Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, Kay Jewelers, and Zales, has been in a nearly 15 year lawsuit against some of its ex-employees, who found that there were drastic discrepancies between its male and female workers’ salaries.
When Dawn Sauto-Coons felt that her male colleagues at a Tampa Jared the Galleria of Jewelry store were subjecting her to sexual harassment on the job, she began to read between the lines. The longtime employee hadn’t been offered the opportunity to interview for a managerial position, as the company was instead hiring men to do to the job with little experience. Once Sauto-Coons heard about another store associate—a woman named Marie Wolf—that had sold more than $1 billion in product without being offered a higher position or raise, she put two and two together.
An accidental discovery that there were major wage discrepancies between the male and female workers at the company then set her decision into stone—she had to do something. She and Marie contacted a lawyer back in 2004 to handle the case against Signet Jewelery, the parent company of Jared, among many other US jewelers.
Over the course of the next 14 years, the lawsuit against the company would involve more than 70,000 women that had been paid or treated unfairly. The lawsuit has since not been resolved. A New York Times Magazine article about the situation describes the environment as one that had “a system in which men were consistently paid more than women and promoted more quickly.”
Not only that, but hundreds of reports of sexual abuse, coercion, and even rape began to flood into a hotline that had been set up to document the work environment at the company. As many as 200 reports had been acquired from both men and women recounting what they had experienced or seen.
This isn’t the first and only time Signet would be the subject of a major scandal. Earlier this year, Signet agreed to pay as much as $11 million in fines to New York regulators that found that the company had signed up many of its customers for store credit cards without their permission. The probes ended in January of 2019 and the company did not admit to whether or not it had done it on purpose.
Employees were allegedly pressured into opening store credit cards in their customers names as a way of meeting outlandish quotas. Instead of promoting a more lucrative working environment, it pressured employees to go against their judgement and sign consumers up for credit cards illegally. This isn’t uncommon, and studies have shown that quotas promote unethical work environments.
In response to the New York Times piece, Signet has expressed discouragement toward the article. The company has also, in the past, claimed that it’s own internal investigations have proven otherwise. Comments to CNN claim that the company focuses on diversity and equality among its employees. However, many disagree with these sentiments.