Ex-Employees Sue Nike, Alleging Gender Discrimination

Posted August 10, 2018 1:03 p.m. EDT
Updated August 10, 2018 1:06 p.m. EDT

Claiming a culture of sexual harassment and gender bias at Nike that left women demeaned and underpaid, two former employees sued the sports apparel company late Thursday, demanding more equitable policies.

The federal lawsuit, which seeks class action status, was filed on behalf of Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston in Portland, Oregon, near where Nike is based. Johnston worked at the company for nearly a decade until she resigned from her analyst role in November; Cahill gave up her position as a director in July 2017 after almost four years there.

Both women left Nike, the world’s largest sports footwear and apparel company, because of the hostile work environment, according to the complaint.

They said in the lawsuit that Nike spent years hiring women at lower salaries than men, discriminating against women during performance reviews and promoting female employees less frequently than male counterparts doing comparable work. The company hierarchy is described in the complaint as “an unclimbable pyramid — the more senior the job title, the smaller the percentage of women.”

The women also said that complaints to human resources about sexual harassment were ignored or mishandled. Nike did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit comes after an investigation by The New York Times found a long history of female employees being iced out of key roles at Nike and subjected to inappropriate behavior by supervisors.

Women at the company quietly surveyed their female peers about their experiences and sent their findings in the spring to Mark Parker, Nike’s chief executive. Within months, at least 11 senior managers had left the company.

In May, at an employee meeting at Nike’s headquarters, Parker apologized to workers who were excluded and pledged to make changes to compensation and training programs. Nike said in an internal memo last month that more than 7,000 employees, or about 10 percent of its 74,000 employees worldwide, will receive raises following a pay review.

On Friday, the lawyers for Cahill and Johnston said that the lawsuit, which requires a judge’s certification to be considered a collective action, could cover more than 500 women. No hearing date has been set.

The lawsuit asks that Nike craft standards to ensure equal pay, fair promotion procedures and nondiscriminatory performance evaluations. The women also seek reinstatement at the company and back pay.

“The way Nike marginalizes women at its headquarters is completely contrary to how it portrays itself to its customers as valuing women in sports and the importance of providing equal opportunity to play,” Byron Goldstein, a lawyer for the women, said in a statement.