By Ashlee Fontes-Comber
A class action was lawsuit filed against Nike on August 9, 2018 by former employees Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston. The plaintiffs alleged sex discrimination took place at Nike Headquarters in Portland, Oregon and are suing for themselves and all woman in similar situations. The plaintiffs claim that Nike has and continues to violate the Federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), the Oregon Equal Pay Act, and the Oregon Equality Act. They seek an order to end discriminatory policies.
The plaintiffs submitted four claims for relief. The first claim for relief is in relation to Nike’s alleged violation of the EPA, based on the differential pay between male and female employees based on gender and not merit. The second claim for relief is in relation to the allegation that Nike violated Oregon EPA based on Nike’s higher monetary compensation for male employees than women. The third claim of relief is for the alleged violation of the Oregon Equality Act — Disparate Impact based on Nike’s employment policies being less favorable for the plaintiffs and class action members when compared to male counterparts at Nike Headquarters. The final claim of relief is the alleged violation of the Oregon Equality Act — Intentional Discrimination on the basis that Nike intentionally discriminated class action members based on gender.
According to the complaint, plaintiff Sara Johnston worked at Nike Headquarters from June 2008 to November 2017, resigning as an Intermediate Business Systems Analyst. Ms. Johnston resigned claiming less pay and fewer promotional opportunities compared to male co-workers, a hostile work environment towards women, and the failure of Nike’s HR department to act. Ms. Johnston is seeking “reinstatement upon remediation of Nike’s discriminatory systems for pay, promotion, and employee complaints.”
Plaintiff Kelly Cahill was employed with Nike Headquarters from October 2013 to July 26, 2017, and resigned from a Director position. Ms. Cahill resigned claiming lack of promotional opportunities for women, less pay than her male colleagues, and ineffective HR responses to complaints.
Plaintiff Johnston alleges that she was sexually harassed beginning around December 2015. Ms. Johnston reported the sexual harassments to her supervising directors in February 2016 and formally submitted complaints to HR in March 2016. According to the complaint, Ms. Johnston alleged she received unwanted nude photographs from a male co-worker who contributed to her performance reviews. Plaintiff Johnston claims reports of the behavior in February and March did not result in corrective action towards the male employee. Instead he was promoted. Subsequently, Ms. Johnston alleges after rejecting the male co-worker and reporting sexual harassment and hostile work environment to her supervising directors and HR her work and performance review were adversely impacted.
Plaintiff Cahill claims she was a victim of hostility and witnessed hostility from former Vice-President at Nike, Daniel Tawiah, alleging that he referred to women as “dykes” on several occasions starting around April 2016. Ms. Cahill allegedly witnessed multiple accounts of Mr. Tawiah publicly berating women employees with false performance accusations. HR received four separate complaints from Ms. Cahill about the hostile behavior towards women, but no meaningful corrective action was taken. Instead, Mr. Tawiah received a promotion from Nike in January 2017.
Additional allegations filed in this case from other women employees were from accounts at Nike events that were centered around sexualized women entertainers and drinking — reaffirming the accusations of a hostile work environment flooded with unchecked sexual harassment towards women. It was also documented that all the class action members at Nike Headquarters were paid and promoted less than their male counterparts.
The plaintiffs and class action members are seeking monetary damages; to be reinstated in the positions; policy, program, and practice change at Nike to not be discriminatory because of gender; and reasonable coverage of attorney’s fees. Nike employees in the Nike retail store, legal, finance, and HR departments are not included in the lawsuit.
In November 2018, Nike filed a motion to partially dismiss the class-action lawsuit stating:
“Plaintiffs have not alleged any factual predicate that makes these claims plausible or warrants imposing upon Nike and the court the considerable burden and expense of litigating their overbroad claims,” Nike said in the motion.
The case remains pending as of February 6, 2019.
Ashlee Fontes-Comber is a second-year doctoral student at Florida State University in the Sport Management program.