A spokesman for the parent company of Sterling Jewelers Monday responded to allegations made by a former employee who claims she was sexually harassed and wrongfully fired in 2020 from the Torrance store for complaining about unsafe coronavirus work conditions, saying the location was shuttered for business reasons.
The plaintiff is identified only as Jane Doe in the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit brought Friday in which she also alleges management did nothing about male colleagues who made misogynistic comments. The suit alleges wrongful termination, retaliation, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment.
David Bouffard, a spokesman for Signet Jewelers, the parent company of Sterling Jewelers, issued a statement regarding Doe’s suit.
“While it’s our policy not to comment on pending legal matters, it’s important to note that when most of the world was shut down in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sterling, like many other retailers, closed all of its North America stores,” Bouffard said. “Our store in Torrance was one of more than 200 stores that was never reopened as we have continued to optimize our retail store footprint.”
Doe was hired in May 2015 and devoted significant time and effort into building her skills as a jeweler, according to the suit, which does not identify the location of the prior Sterling Jewelers store where she worked before transferring to the Torrance location.
“It was (Doe’s) goal to be promoted and rise through the company’s ranks,” the suit states.
Sterling, the largest specialty jeweler in the United States, with more than 1,500 stores throughout the nation, employs thousands of employees. Although Sterling markets its jewelry primarily to women, most of the jewelers who make and repair the company’s products are men, the suit states.
“Female jewelers like (the) plaintiff were consistently passed over for job opportunities, promotions and pay raises, in addition to being sexually harassed,” according to the suit, which also states that Doe was “one of about a handful of female jewelers in Southern California out of many employees.”
Doe was often propositioned by male employees, leaving her feeling “extremely uncomfortable and unsafe,” the suit states.
Some of Doe’s co-workers found out she had an abortion after being impregnated by an abusive ex-boyfriend and they reacted by “viciously bullying and mocking” her, with one saying, “Does your God think it’s OK to kill unborn babies?,” the suit states.
A Sterling district manager, defending the co-worker, told Doe, “Your issues are offensive to everyone around you,” the suit states.
Doe requested and was granted a transfer to Southern California and she began working at the Torrance location in January 2018, the suit states.
“Although Plaintiff was initially optimistic about the fresh start, Sterling’s culture of misogyny continued to plague her employment,” the suit alleges.
High-billing repair jobs were consistently given to male jewelers and Doe’s performance was unfairly scrutinized by her supervisors, the suit states.
One male co-worker repeatedly told Doe he would give her high-billing work in exchange for sexual favors, the suit states. She rejected his alleged advances, but he continued to proposition her, according to the suit.
Doe’s multiple complaints to human resources were ignored, the suit states.
When the Sterling store in Torrance closed in March 2020, Doe was placed on a furlough, the suit states. Prior to her furlough, Doe complained about the lack of ventilation and insufficient masks available in the workplace, which she says caused jewelers to breathe dust, chemicals and other toxic matters while making workers vulnerable to the COVID- 19, the suit states.
In July 2020, Doe was told she was being fired as of the end of the month, the suit states.
“During the termination meeting, Sterling acknowledged that (Doe’s) termination was not related to performance, while indicating that it was related to her prior complaints,” the suit states.
Doe has suffered financial losses as well as severe emotional distress and anxiety, the suit states.