A group of four former employees who worked in the corporate headquarters in Oregon filed a lawsuit against the company. The lawsuit states that the company “intentionally and willfully discriminated against [women] with respect to pay, promotions, and conditions of employment.” Additionally, the company has been accused of ignoring sexual harassment and creating a negative work environment for women.
One of the plaintiffs, Kelly Cahill, left Nike to work at rival Adidas in 2017, claims that she was paid $20,000 less than men who performed the same tasks as her. After the complaints she filed within the company went unnoticed, she made the executive decision to leave.
A second plaintiff, named Sarah Johnston, described facing difficulties within her career after rejecting the advances of a male coworker. She left her position as a business systems analyst in 2016 after she, too, had her internal complaints ignored.
“At Nike, the numbers tell a story of a company where women are devalued and demeaned. For many women at Nike, the company hierarchy is an unclimbable pyramid – the more senior the job title, the smaller the percentage of women. The inequity for women at Nike starts before they do, with decisions about starting pay,” the lawsuit states.
The company has released powerful campaigns with women like Serena Williams and has begun to produce items such as a sports hijab for women to brand themselves as a company dedicated to the equality and empowerment of all women.
So why are the women who work for them and make this branding possible treated as less than equal?
Cahill and Johnston are seeking for the company to change its ways and improve the way its women employees are treated, though they are unsure of Nike’s ability to do so. Through their lawsuit, they want the court to force Nike “to develop and institute reliable, validated, and job-related standards for evaluating performance, determining pay, and making promotion decisions.”
In other words, the plaintiffs are seeking a structural reform mandate that would completely change the leadership of the company and lead to a more fair environment for the women who work there.
Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker, apologized this past May, stating, “We, and I, missed something. While many of us feel like we’re treated with respect at Nike, that wasn’t the case in all teams. And if all of our teammates don’t see the same opportunities, we just can’t accept that.”
The case has moved to the federal courts and will probably not be an easy one, since the federal courts have an incredibly skewed view of what constitutes as workplace harassment and discrimination. Should the former employees win, however, the internal reform of the company could begin a ripple effect that encourages other big-name companies to do the same.
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