Nike Faces Lawsuit Alleging Systemic Gender Discrimination

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Two women formerly employed by Nike claim in a recently filed lawsuit that women are devalued and demeaned by the company through systemic gender discrimination. The two former employees, Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston, claim that they were paid significantly less than male co-workers for similar work and that they were also passed up for promotions due to their gender. The suit was originally filed in Nike’s home state of Oregon by the two former employees seeking class action status. The federal suit alleges that Nike violated the Equal Pay Act.

The plaintiffs want the court to order the company to institute new policies that would alter the way the company treats women, providing equal opportunity for employees regardless of their gender and combatting the negative effects of their current (and past) unlawful employment practices. The plaintiffs also seek reinstatement at Nike and back pay.

The spokesperson for Nike cited Nike’s long-standing commitment to inclusion and diversity and claimed that the company opposes any type of discrimination. She also went on to say that Nike is committed to competitive pay and benefits for all employees. She declined to answer specific questions about the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs point to respected news sites in their complaints (The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times) as having described Nike’s culture as allowing gender bias and sexual harassment. Additionally, is has been reported that the CEO, Mark Parker, apologized to employees at the company over the handling of workplace misconduct allegations and 11 or more executives have left the company in the last several months. Other changes happening at Nike that could be related to the current legal trouble is that Nike announced pay increases for 7,000 employees last month. The company described the move as an attempt to support a culture where employees can feel included and empowered.

According to the Suit, Cahill was a former Nike producer and director from 2013 to 2017. She left the company due to a “hostile work environment” and ineffective handling of complaints to HR. She also alleges that she was paid $20,000 less than a male co-worker with similar job duties. Cahill also claims that a former Nike vice president used derogatory names to refer to women and singled out a female employee for overly harsh criticism by yelling at her repeatedly in public.

Complaints were allegedly filed to HR about the employee by Cahill and other women at Nike, but the Nike vice president was promoted in 2017. According to reporters at The Wall Street Journal, he was forced to leave the company in April.

Johnston, the second plaintiff, was employed by Nike from 2008 to 2017. She alleges that she received inappropriate sexual messages and nude photos of himself by a male co-worker after a Nike-organized party. After telling him to stop sending her messages that were not related to work, he continued to send inappropriate messages and photos. He also later started to refuse to attend meetings that she organized at work. The harassment was reported to Johnston’s supervisors, but the response she received from one of the supervisors was that the Nike culture revolved around alcohol and that the rise of the internet and cell phones have simply make drunk messages of that nature a part of the current generation. Johnston complained to HR about the situation, but the male co-worker was shortly after promoted to a management position that required her to work closely with him. She claims she was denied higher ratings on her annual review in retaliation for her response to the situation and her complaints of sexual harassment. Johnston also alleges that her starting salary was $2,000 less than a male co-worker for the same job. She claims she had more relevant work experience and superior credentials and even helped train him on the job.

If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace or workplace retaliation for reporting violations, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.