Nike Calls for Dismissal of Ex-Employees' Gender Discrimination Suit

Ex-Nike employees are suing the brand for gender discrimination and pay disparity. Nike is now calling for a dismissal of some of the claims.

Nike World Headquarters Campus

Image via Stocorp

Nike World Headquarters Campus

Nike's tumultuous 2018 continues this week after a group of former female employees have filed suit against the company with further allegations of gender discrimination and pay disparity. 

Former brand analyst Sara Johnston and producer and director Kelly Cahill are leading the suit, which echoes many of the complaints voiced in recent months regarding lack of promotions and positions of power among women at the Swoosh. The filing alleges that an annual performance evaluation often caused women to receive lower marks than their male co-workers, resulting in lower chances of being promoted, smaller salary increases, lower bonuses, and less equity in the company.

The group's suit also touches on previous complaints against the brand, including budget cuts made to women's departments and allegations of sexual harassment and overall workplace hostility. Furthermore, the suit claims that complaints to human resources not only fell on deaf ears, but had a negative impact, further "reinforcing and exacerbating" the already volatile environment.

Specifically, Johnston says she resigned after discovering she was paid less and was offered fewer promotions than her male colleagues who performed comparable work. Cahill's complaint voices similar issues, with both parties going on to detail some of the sexually-charged harassment issues that have reportedly plagued the brand.

Johnston alleges that following a Nike party in 2015, she received inappropriate messages from a male colleague, one with whom she had to work with regularly and was key in deciding her performance reviews. The unnamed co-worker allegedly continued to send messages, including nude photographs. After rejecting his advances, Jonhston says she was treated negatively in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Cahill's complaints call out a co-worker by name—former vice president of global brand digital marketing innovation Daniel Tawiah, who left the company in April. According to Cahill, Tawiah was known for referring to female employees as "dykes." In another incident at a company dinner, Tawiah allegedly told Cahill that her opinion didn't matter in front of other co-workers.

Other former employees have now joined the suit, which is seeking a class action settlement. 

In response to the suit, the company issued the following statement: "Nike opposes discrimination of any type and has a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are committed to competitive pay and benefits for our employees. The vast majority of Nike employees live by our values of dignity and respect for others."

News of trouble at the Swoosh first broke in March with the ousting of former brand president Trevor Edwards. "Over the past few weeks, we've become aware of reports of behavior occurring within our organization that do not reflect our core values of inclusivity, respect, and empowerment at a time when we are accelerating our transition to the next stage of growth and advancing our culture," chairman and CEO Mark Parker said in a statement at the time.

UPDATE (11/7): On Monday, Nike filed a motion to dismiss claims made by Cahill, Johnston, and other former employees, and prevent a class action suit from proceeding. 

The Swoosh says certain claims by the plaintiffs are nothing more than "inconsistent theories." Specifically, the brand cites a complaint about pay disparity compared to a male employee whose job titles and responsibilities are not identified. In another example, the brand argues that a plaintiff compared her salary to that of male employees in higher-ranking positions. 

Nike is now asking Judge Jolie A. Russo to dismiss three of the four claims in the suit including Federal Equal Pay Act, Oregon Equal Pay Act, and Oregon Equality Act violations. The company is also denying a fourth claim related to the Oregon Equality Act but did not file a motion for dismissal.

A request to Nike for comment has not yet been returned.