The New York Times has a lengthy magazine article detailing sexual harassment and discrimination cases going back decades filed by female employees at Sterling Jewelers Inc. and its corporate parent, Signet Jewelers in Akron.

The story, “The Company That Sells Love to America Had a Dark Secret,” is now online and describes a “good old boy” culture that resulted in sexual coercion and rape.

Signet issued a statement saying it believes the story casts the company in an unfair light; a spokesman said the company also has asked the Times to make corrections.

The story by magazine staff writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner in part profiles female employees involved in lawsuits that were previously reported in other stories by the Times and the Washington Post. The Akron Beacon Journal has reported on the lawsuits and published related stories dating back to 2008.

The new Times story says that former Signet Chief Executive Officer Mark Light, who retired suddenly in 2017, “is the subject of many redacted and nonredacted pages of the lawsuit filings …” Previous news stories said Light was named in a 2013 court document as being among male employees accused of inappropriate behavior. The Times story author said she unsuccessfully tried to contact Light and other executives and that the company denied a formal request to interview executives.

The profiles in the Times story include one on Dawn Souto-Coons, former assistant store manager at a Tampa, Fla., Jared jewelry store, who said she reviewed payroll records and saw that women were being paid less than men. Souto-Coons told another female employee and the two decided to sue the company.

“That was nearly 14 years ago. Dawn has now been waiting for the resolution of the lawsuit for as long as she worked at the company. Fourteen years was a long time to abide deep and overt discrimination at your job. It’s also a long time to be named claimant in a lawsuit, which at one point grew to nearly 70,000 women. It is a long time for that lawsuit to have made just about no progress toward a resolution. And it is a long time to wonder just how an enormous, publicly traded company was able to keep the details of its working conditions from its shareholders and from the public, and why those secrets might have been the company’s most valuable assets after all.”

The story said employees had to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement upon their hiring saying they had to use an in-house company funded complaint system, called Resolve, instead of public courts.

“The benefit to the company was that it was resolved in secret. The secrecy was the point,” the story said. Resolve “was Sterling’s most insidious tool,” the story said.

The story also named or described female employees who said in sworn court statements and interviews they were harassed, kissed, fondled, sexually coerced and in some cases raped by male co-workers and supervisors.

“These accounts weren’t curated for maximum salaciousness,” the story said. “It is just a selection of the A’s and B’s. … The sworn statements, when read from beginning to end, are shocking, first for the consistency of horrors across cities and regions. Then for the egregiousness and audacity of the abuse they detail.”

The writer said the interviews she conducted created a portrait of a company that women said “felt all powerful and was often vindictive to them” and a company “described to me as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ but for mall jewelry, and ‘The Gestapo meets Studio 54.’ ” Male and female employees spoke of a “good old boy” network of senior executives, regional vice presidents, district managers and store managers.

Signet said it talked with Brodesser-Akner over the approximately two-year span she reported the story.

The company on Tuesday issued the following statement:

“We’re disappointed that The New York Times decided to publish an article primarily based on decades-old allegations, and we believe casts our company unfairly. Signet is a recognized leader among companies for gender diversity, with women making up 74 percent of store management positions and full gender parity in both the [senior executive suite] and board of directors. Under the leadership of our CEO Gina Drosos, we are undeterred in our ongoing mission to champion diversity and inclusion as a strategic priority and in our multi-year business transformation plan.”

Signet’s former CEO, Light, resigned effective July 31, 2017, at the age of 55 citing health reasons. Light was a 35-year company veteran, including more than 25 years in senior executive jobs, and was promoted to CEO in 2014.

He was succeeded by Virginia Drosos, then a member of the Signet board of directors. Shortly after, Signet enacted new policies and procedures and created a board committee focused on promoting workplace respect that Drosos sits on.

Signet shares on Tuesday rose 94 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $23.13. Shares over the last 52 weeks have ranged from a low of $21.97 to a high of $71.07.

Jim Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ