Former marketer alleges unequal pay, discrimination in Nike class-action lawsuit

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Four former employees are suing Nike.
Four former employees are suing Nike. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Nike's brand nightmare continues with a new lawsuit alleging sex-discrimination against female employees at the Beaverton, Oregon-based sportswear giant. Filed in the U.S District Court of Portland, Oregon on Thursday by four former female staffers, the class-action lawsuit accuses Nike of providing unequal pay, ignoring sexual harassment and fostering a corporate culture where women are devalued and demeaned.

"Nike judges women more harshly than men, which means lower salaries, smaller bonuses, and fewer stock options," the suit alleges. "Women's complaints to human resources about discrimination and harassment, including sexual assault, are ignored or mishandled. Male bad behavior is rarely penalized."

One of the plaintiffs, Kelly Cahill, worked as a marketer for Nike from 2004 to 2017, most recently in a director role. She resigned last year because of "the hostile work environment, HR's ineffective response to her complaints, and the lack of promotion opportunities because of her gender," according to the lawsuit. Cahill claims in 2017 she was paid $20,000 less than a male counterpart on her team performing equal work. The suit notes that Nike is aware of pay disparities as it conducts an annual "pay analysis."

Cahill now works as a director of brand communications for Nike chief competitor, Adidas, according to her LinkedIn page.

Laura Salerno Owens, an attorney at Markowitz Herbold representing the plaintiffs, did not reply to a request for for comment.

A Nike spokesman did not return a request for comment.

The news comes after a tumultuous spring for Nike, which parted ways with nearly a dozen executives earlier this year following reports of workplace toxic to women and a rampant boys club culture. The most senior executive included in the purge was Trevor Edwards, brand president and expected heir to Nike Chief Executive Mark Parker. Three marketers, such as Simon Pestridge, global VP of marketing for performance categories, and Tommy Kain, director of sports marketing, also left Nike, as did Daniel Tawiah, who had been VP of global digital brand innovation. Tawiah was named in the new lawsuit, which alleges he called female employees "dykes" and publicly berated them, something Cahill reported to human resources the suit says.

The mass exodus and negative news did not immediately have an adverse effect on Nike sales, however. In late June, the brand reported strong earnings, including a return to the black for North American revenue, which had been in decline for three quarters. In Nike's fourth quarter, revenue increased 13 percent to $9.8 billion, and net income was $1.1 billion, 13 percent more than the year-earlier period.

On a conference call with analysts to announce the fourth-quarter earnings, Parker noted that Nike is growing its Nike Plus membership, and messaging on social platforms. He also called out the brand's women's business as a factor in helping to fuel sales increases.

The four plaintiffs are seeking back pay for lost compensation and equity distribution, and punitive damages as well as a permanent injunction against Nike from "engaging in policies, patterns and/or practices that discriminate" because of gender.

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