By Lenore Fedow
New York—A federal judge in New York has certified a lawsuit filed by shareholders against Signet Jewelers Ltd. as a class action and declined the retailer’s request to revisit the ruling.

The lawsuit, filed in 2016 by The Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi, accuses the retailer of misrepresenting two aspects of the company: the health of its credit portfolio (which the company has since outsourced) and the depth and breadth of allegations of a culture of “pervasive” sexual harassment.

The suit now includes all persons or entities that acquired Signet common stock from Aug. 29, 2013 to May 25, 2017.

The day following the class certification, July 11, Signet’s counsel asked the judge for clarification regarding evidence pertaining to the sexual harassment aspect of the suit, particularly the role its Code of Conduct played in misleading investors.

Signet had sought dismissal of the sexual harassment aspect of the lawsuit in May, claiming that its Code of Conduct was an example of “puffery” and acting in contrast to it shouldn’t be viewed as misleading investors.

(Claiming a statement is “puffery”—that it is so general the average person would not rely upon it as fact—is often used as a defense against claims of fraud, especially claims of false advertising.)

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon denied Signet’s motion, noting that some statements included in a company’s code of conduct can be specific enough for investors to rely upon when deciding to invest in a company and highlighted the importance of context given Signet’s ongoing legal proceedings, particularly Jock, et al. v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., the case filed in March 2008 by several women accusing the company of discriminatory pay and promotion practices based on their gender.

“The problem for defendants is that … Signet’s codes of conduct and ethics—again, reincorporated by reference in Signet’s SEC filings and posted on Signet’s website after Jock was filed—touted certain values and practices that constitute the exact opposite of what the company allegedly valued and practiced,” she wrote in a court filing.

The investors’ counsel viewed the request for clarification as Signet’s latest attempt to dismiss the company culture aspect of the case after five failed attempts to do so, calling it the “sixth bite at the proverbial apple.”

McMahon sided with the plaintiffs in a handwritten memo scribbled on top of Signet’s request for clarification, writing: “I agree with the plaintiff’s counsel—my ruling is crystal clear. There is nothing to clarify. Your understanding is completely, totally and utterly wrong.”

The case, known as In re Signet Jewelers Limited Securities Litigation, is currently in pre-trial proceedings.

Signet Jewelers declined to comment on the judge’s decisions, saying it does not comment on pending legal matters.

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.