Signet Jewelers unit reaches $175 mln settlement of gender bias lawsuit

Female office workers wearing high heels and clothes of the same colour walk at a business district in Tokyo
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

June 9 (Reuters) - Signet Jewelers Ltd (SIG.N) on Thursday announced a $175 million settlement of long-running gender bias litigation, resolving claims on behalf of 68,000 female Sterling Jewelers employees that the retailer paid women less and promoted them less often than men.

The settlement averts a Sept. 5 arbitration that would have proceeded on a classwide basis, and subjected Sterling to potential greater liability than if employees pursued individual claims.

Sterling's brands include Kay Jewelers and Jared. The company denied wrongdoing, and Bermuda-based Signet took a $190 million pre-tax charge for the settlement, which requires a private arbitrator's approval.

Signet on Thursday also reported higher-than-expected

quarterly profit and revenue, and authorized an additional $500

million of share repurchases. Its stock price rose as much as 12.1%

Though the settlement focused on pay and promotions from around 2004 to 2018, mainly for sales associates, the case drew greater attention after some female Sterling employees submitted sworn statements that they had been sexually harassed.

The jewelry industry "is more accessible to women than many, but not always as hospitable," Joseph Sellers, a lawyer for the women from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, said in an interview.

He said the settlement "could have a ripple effect on other companies by calling attention to the problems these women confronted, and the proper response that Sterling developed. We applaud the company for turning a corner."

Signet Chief Executive Gina Drosos said on a conference call the accord lets Signet focus on having an "inclusive and highly engaged culture" while ensuring pay equity and diversity.

Sterling was originally sued in 2008, and accused of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the federal Equal Pay Act.

Sellers said Sterling had used irrelevant factors when hiring, giving rise to the phrase "they start low and they stay low" as pay disparities between men and women persisted over time, and had a promotion process "riddled with exceptions."

But Signet said it has dismantled such practices, and Sellers said he has seen "no evidence" of sexual misconduct in recent years.

About $125 million from the settlement would go to class members, with the rest covering legal fees and costs.

In 2020, Signet reached a $240 million settlement of shareholder claims it concealed sexual harassment allegations against senior executives.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman

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