One huge company embodies everything vile that the new #metoo legislation is working to fix


Rep. Cheri Bustos speaks at a press conference calling for an end to forced arbitration as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand greets Gretchen Carlson on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2017.
Rep.
Cheri Bustos speaks at a press conference calling for an end to
forced arbitration as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand greets Gretchen
Carlson on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 6,
2017.

Reuters

  • Legislation called “Ending Forced Arbitration for
    Sexual Harassment Act” was introduced in the House on Wednesday
    with bipartisan support.
  • It stops employers from forcing employees to sign away
    their right to sue for sexual harassment.
  • One company embodies everything this legislation is
    meant to stop — Signet Jewelers. It owns Zales, Jared’s
    Galleria and Kay Jewelers. There’s a massive sexual harassment
    class-action case against the company — but plaintiffs who had
    agreed to arbitration had to fight tooth to get it.

A bipartisan group of members of Congress has introduced a bill
that, if passed, will change the way companies across the country
deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. 

It’s called the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual
Harassment Act
 and it does exactly what it says. At
some companies, when you’re hired, you have to sign away your
right to sue the company in the event of sexual harassment.
Instead, negotiations go to a private, internal
arbitration.

The company wins, and the employee is left carrying all the shame
and the secrets. Most of the time they can’t even tell their
coworkers about it — that is to say, they can’t warn
their co-workers about it.

One company that all Americans know well has used forced
arbitration clauses with outrageous effect: Signet Jewelers.

Signet owns the stores that sell most Americans their engagement
rings — Zales, Kay, Jared the Galleria of
Jewelry etc. It has a kiosk in every mall and a commercial for
every holiday. And it now has hundreds of former female
employees willing to tell stories of systematic sexual abuse at
the company in the court of law.

It wasn’t easy. After filing a lawsuit in 2008, they had to
fight for years to jump over the
hurdle of a forced arbitration clause
to get to class action
suit, and with stories like these, they shouldn’t have had
to.

Here are a few tidbits from both their
motion for a class action
:

As the substantial record plainly reveals, this evidence of
conduct demeaning toward women originates with the CEO, DVPs, and
VPROs and is perpetuated by similar conduct exhibited by DMs
throughout the company…

This behavior includes frequent references to women in
sexual and vulgar ways; groping and grabbing women; soliciting
sexual relations with women, sometimes as a quid pro quo for
employment benefits; creating an environment at often mandatory
company events in which women are expected to undress publicly,
accede to sexual overtures and refrain from complaining about the
abusive treatment to which they have been subjected. It has even
included sexual assault and rape.


signet ceo mark light
Signet CEO Mark
Light


CNBC
screengrab



Current CEO Mark Light is among those accused of sexual
harassment, having sex with female employees, and giving out
promotions based on sexual favors. When we asked the company
about this last year, it sent this statement:

The fact is, many of the allegations were brought to
Sterling’s attention for the first time during the current
litigation, and some appear to date back more than 25 years. The
company has processes in place for receiving and investigating
such allegations, and we wish that anyone who had a workplace
concern back then had used those processes so that we could have
investigated their concerns and responded appropriately.”

Light did not, however, respond months later to the

Washington Post’s questions about it in February
when the
newspaper reported that more than 250 women had made declarations
against the company.

Up until this moment — and for decades thanks to forced
arbitration — he and others like him have been protected from the
shame of these claims. She was pressured into having 

“You go to arbitration, and it’s a black hole of nothing,” one of
the women, a former Kay employee named Heather Ballou, told the

Washington Post this week.



Signet didn’t immediately respond to Business Insider’s
request for comment on this story. They did, however tell

the Post
that they were “reviewing the legislation and
therefore cannot comment further on any specifics. Signet is
committed to maintaining a safe and inclusive workplace, and we
remain confident that the systems and practices in place for
filing grievances are fully compliant with legal
requirements.”

‘Stop it now’

In
her speech introducing the legislation
, Congresswoman Cheri
Bustos (D-IL) called out Signet by name. She said she was
inspired to write the legislation when she read the Washinton
Post’s coverage of the Signet case. 

It was, she said, “a rigged system that allowed those in
senior leadership to prey on women in the workforce.”

At her side stood Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY),
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal
(D-WA), Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Congressman
Walter Jones (R-NC) and Gretchen Carlson — the woman whose
lawsuit against Fox News brought down one of the most powerful
men in media.

“To those CEOs and the managers who think their workplace
should be run like an episode of Mad Men we have one message for
you. Stop it, stop it now,” said Bustos.

Forced arbitration — secret meetings and silencing
agreements — work in the same way that Harvey Weinstein used
non-disclosure agreements. They “protect the predator,” said
Gillibrand.

Trump Organization

So it will be fascinating to see this legislation cross
President Trump’s desk. This will be a law from his own life. The
Trump Organization has always been known for forcing employees to
sign away their right to speak about what working there, from
those working in the corporate office to those working on the
golf course. 

And of course Trump himself has always been known for
demeaning women; for
speaking to and about them
in a disgusting manner; for

intruding on them when they’re undressed
, for an egregious

sense of entitlement to their bodies
; for shaming their looks
without any sense of irony or self awareness; in short, for
objectifying them.

“Because it is faster, more cost effective and tends to
level the playing field, it is commonplace for large companies
like The Trump Organization to use arbitration as the preferred
method for resolving disputes,”
the company told CBS News earlier this year, when asked to
explain its policy.

At Wednesday’s press conference Graham said that he would like to
see the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable come out
for this legislation, and ended his speech with a warning to
business leaders across the country.

“You’re going to lose if you fight this.”

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