Months after tapping Colin Kaepernick, who made a name for himself protesting racial injustice, to frontline its marketing campaign, Nike is now facing a lawsuit alleging race discrimination by a former employee. Ahmer Inam, who had worked at the sportswear giant as a senior director of advanced analytics, claims in a suit filed earlier this week U.S. Circuit Court in Multnomah County Oregon that he faced race discrimination during his time as an employee.
During his three years at Nike, Inam, who is from New Delhi, India, alleges he received "disparate treatment based upon his race, color and national origin," according to the suit, which also claims he was paid less than white peers, denied promotions in favor of a white colleague, and subjected to "hostile and intimidating treatment." Inam tried to report the issues to Nike CEO Mark Parker last year.
"This case reveals the hypocrisy of Nike's marketing effort to portray itself as a champion of diversity," says Dana Sullivan, the Buchanan Angeli Altschul & Sullivan lawyer representing Inam, noting that her client was treated "like a second-class citizen because of his race." She notes that after Inam raised concerns internally, Parker "left him hanging for months and left him no alternative but to leave the company."
The lawsuit was first reported by the Portland Business Journal. Inam is seeking an award of economic damages of $516,000 and non-economic damages and fees of $350,000.
At Nike, Inam worked on trend sensing and consumer demand forecasting for products; he also identified brand influencers, according to his LinkedIn profile. Inam, who left the brand in January, referred comment about the lawsuit to Sullivan.
In a statement, a Nike spokeswoman said, "We can't comment on the recently filed complaint, but Nike is committed to creating a culture of empowerment and respect where everyone can succeed and contribute to our success."
Last year, following numerous reports alleging a boys-club culture and the exodus of numerous male executives, four former female employees, including one former marketing executive, sued Nike for sex-discrimination. The brand's executives were also sued in the fall by shareholders, who claimed the reports of a hostile work environment have been detrimental to the Nike brand.
In recent months, Nike garnered acclaim for its "Dream Crazy" campaign from the fall, which featured the controversial Kaepernick. While many criticized the marketing push, which they saw as supportive of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of social inequality, the campaign helped bring in sales for the Nike brand. In fact, Nike Founder Phil Knight recently said he greenlit the Kaepernick ad after remembering a conversation with basketball player LeBron James, in which James expressed concern for his son's future as an African-American dealing with racism.