Gender Discrimination Lawsuit against Nike

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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This article sets to expand on the recent discrimination lawsuit that has been brought against the Nike Corporation. Former female employees in leadership roles have filed a complaint against Nike citing pay disparities and an unfavorable work environment.

Claims of gender disparity and unfavorable work environment floods the Nike Corporation after alleged claims that the company discriminates against female employees. Findings suggests male employees are paid more than female employees of the company who hold the same position. Women employed by Nike are also less likely to be selected for promotions and the work environment at the company does not aligned with company policy. The company moves to settle claims and have agree to implement plans to balance and improve promotion policies, pay increases as well as providing healthy work environments.

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In today’s time it is wiser to be more selective and better aware of the words and actions that people choose to use in the workplace. In some instances, friendly exchanges might be misinterpreted by co-workers of either gender. This could lead to complaints being filed and actions brought against the accused. An instance such as this could make for an uncomfortable work environment between the parties until an understanding has been reached.

There are other instances, where blatant disrespect, misconduct, harassment and discriminatory behavior may be exhibited within a company. Instances such as these should be reported to management if the accused has been made aware that their behavior is offensive and is not in alignment with company policy. Continuous behaviors that are not conducive to a positive working environment may result in the accused being reprimanded or possibly terminated if said behavior is not corrected.

There are often instances in which unwanted actions and advances are unlikely to be dictated to management because the victim in these cases have several fears such as losing their source of income, being ostracized, or having their complaints ignored. However, this is not the case of four women who are currently in litigation with the Nike Corporation on the grounds of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

In an article written by the Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, the Nike Company was founded by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight on January 25, 1964 under the name Blue Ribbon Sports. The company was later renamed Nike on May 30, 1971. Many items that are relevant to sports such as athletic apparel, athletic equipment as well as street apparel are produced by the company. Since its beginnings it has become a multi-billion-dollar company that is headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. It is also the largest supplier of athletic clothing, athletic shoes, and athletic apparel in the world. Through sponsorship agreements, Nike products are promoted by celebrity athletes, and both professional and college athletic teams.

The success of the company stems from the company’s commitment to research and groundbreaking innovations. The brand’s “swoosh” logo and the Nike slogan, “Just Do It” is known by many worldwide and they are distinctive to the company and its success. The company has also invested in the use of campaign ads and social media in recent years as a platform to market their brand appealing to people of all demographics.

As with the success of the company, the Nike Corporation has faced many controversies in the past. A lawsuit was brought against the company by another major company that manufactures athletic apparel. In 2013 the company was sued by Under Armour. According to Suresh Singh, there was a trademark infringement that pertains to the words “I will.” Nike claim to have used the slogan before Under Armour had gained United States copyright. This suit is a part of a long standing battle between to two companies. In 2003, Nike sued Under Armour for using the term “dri fit” in describing a breathable clothing material. These are two of the lesser suits in which the company has been involved. The allegations against the company have ranged from sweatshop manufacturing, racial discrimination, and sexual harassment to the latest allegations of a gender discrimination lawsuit that has been filed against the company.

The fact that men and women are not equal based on gender is one aspect of gender inequality or gender disparity. The gender gap details the unequal access to opportunities that exists between men and women. Even though women have made improvement in terms of equality there are still some issues that exists when it comes to gender disparities in the workplace. According to the United States Census Bureau, women reportedly make 80 percent of what men are paid and are less likely to receive promotions or advancements in the workplace. Pay has become a big issue in the workplace and unequal pay between men and women doing the same amount of work is one of the main factors that impacts gender inequality in today’s workplace.

Sexual harassment is an intolerable offense that occurs when unwanted advances are made toward a person who is not interested in being pursued. The advances may be deemed mild or severe but nonetheless, behaviors of sexual harassment of any kind should not be tolerated in the workplace. Top executives of Nike were accused of sexual harassment after making unwanted advances to women. The executives have also been accused of using vulgarities and commenting openly on the bodies of female employees.

According to Nathaniel Meyersohn (2018), in August 2018, the Nike Corporation was challenged with a class action lawsuit stating gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The lawsuit was initially filed by former Nike employees, Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston who worked at Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon and afterwards two more women have come forward and were added to the claim against the company. Meyersohn states, the former employees claim that the company paid female employees less than male employees for the same amount of work produced, and female employees were also subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace. The plaintiff’s in the case are accusing the company of violating federal and state equal pay laws. Claims within the lawsuit also indicates that the environment of the company contributed to harassment against female employees of the company. According to the article a group of high level executives allegedly permitted a work environment that was hostile in nature and the majority of the accused group were male executives of the company (2018).

Many people have been afraid of coming forward because of the fear of losing their income however, women today have more power than in the past because there is strength in numbers and more women are bonding together for the sake of fairness and equality.

The women of Nike capitalized on “The Me Too” movement which was launched nearly a year prior to the suit being filed. They revolted against the company and went forward with litigation with allegations of sexual harassment, exclusion, and being overlooked for promotions after claims and complaints were left unanswered by the company’s human resource department.

According to claims, Cahill and Johnston have stated that the company made them feel insignificant in comparison to their male counterparts and a lawsuit was filed after their claims brought about no meaningful results (Meyersohn, 2018). Although filing this a petition against the company was a risky move on their behalf, the women felt their options were limited to only three: stay and fight for equal rights, leave the company and lose their income, or remain at the company and endure the unwanted behaviors and practices within the company.

Cahill and Johnston generated an informal survey that was circulated in 2017. According to an article written by Stu Woo (2018), the survey contained inquiries about their experiences with the company, alleged misconduct by male colleagues, concerns of pay disparities, and sexual harassment and the results were sent to CEO Mark Parker.

According to Meyersohn (2018), the informal survey was conducted and circulated by the claimants in the company who held high positions and leadership roles. Cahill, who was a former producer and director at the company for five years prior to the suit, claims that her pay was $20,000 less than a male colleague who held the same position. Johnston was told that her starting pay of $33,000 would not be negotiated after learning that a male employee on her team whom she helped train, starting salary was $35,000. It was distributed in secrecy and it outlined the experiences (fair or not) that the women who worked for the company may have endured (2018).

An article by The New York Times, Tiffany Hsu (2018) states that Sara Johnston was employed by the company for about ten years before she resigned from her position as an analyst and Kelly Cahill had been employed at the company for four years prior to her resignation because of a hostile work environment. According to Hsu the lawsuit states, “they spent years hiring women at lower salaries than men, discriminating against women during performance reviews, and promoting females less frequently than male counterparts doing comparable work” (2018). The Nike Corporation have a smaller percentage of women who hold senior job titles.

After the CEO of the company, Mark Parker was made aware of the survey that had been circulated, Woo states, “an outside firm conducted a formal review of workplace behavior and practices within the Nike corporation” (2018) which resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the company.

After findings that allegedly supports the claims, a few high ranking executives left the company. The president of Nike, Trevor Edwards and its vice president Jayme Martin resigned from the company free of personal explanations however, it was reported the two protected male employees who were accused of belittling women and foreign born employees. Eleven other employees left the company a short time after the suit was filed and CEO Mark Edwards released a general statement sighting “behavioral issues that were inconsistent with Nike’s values” as a reason for some of their employee’s resignations and/or dismissals (Woo, 2018).

According to Jessica Golden (2018), CEO Mark Parker issued a statement of apology to employees. He states, “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… we just can’t accept that” (Golden, 2018).

Meyersohn also writes, that a plea to the court that policies of equal opportunities for employees regardless of gender to be implemented and to “eradicate the effects of their past and present unlawful employment practices” (2018).

There have been many lawsuits filed against the company prior to the current gender discrimination case. In the past the company has been accused of racial discrimination and culture insensitivity. This suit filed is said to possibly include more than 500 women if it is mandated a class action lawsuit by a judge. According to Hsu (2018), Cahill and Johnston are asking for equal pay, fair promotion practices and performance evaluations based on nondiscriminatory procedures. In the suit filed the women also asks to be reinstated to their former positions and well as back payment.

According to a report by Michelle Lou of the Huffington Post (2018), Samantha Phillips and Tracee Cheng have also come forth with claims of being paid less than their male coworkers for equal work. Lou also writes that human resource had done little to resolve the issues that were presented to them. Although Nike is said to maintain standards of integrity the women in the suit believes that the company has stalled their careers because of their gender and that there is no room for female employees to “move up” in the company (Lou, 2018). The lawsuit also cites instances of vulgarities by senior employees that made for hostile working conditions.

In addressing the press, Nike seeming hold true to a mission statement. Statements that have been publicly released to the press have been generic in nature and seemingly scripted as not to bring more attention to the case. According to the article written by Hsu, a spokesperson for Nike has noted the company “opposes discrimination of any type,” and “we are committed to competitive pay and benefits for our employees” (2018). Released statements to the press highlight what is said to be the company’s “long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion” (Lou, 2018). Nike has also reported that many of their employees live by the values that are upheld by the company. These values are said to be in respect to dignity and respect for other people. At other times spokespersons for the company have declined to issue new comments but instead have chosen to restate previous versions of commentary.

According to Charisse Jones (2018), in an effort to help correct pay inequities, Nike is planning to increase the salaries of women and people of color by ten percent and also change the manner in which bonuses will be distributed. The distribution will be based on how well the company functions as a whole instead of individual performances. After the company conducts pay reviews, approximately seven thousand employees worldwide will receive increases in their salaries.

Jones also states, that after the company’s human resource department was accused of ignoring complaints filed by employees, CEO Mark Parker has recognized that changes are needed in training programs as well as compensation. Jones also notes that Parker has stated that Nike is planning to become more inclusive in culture and have more representation of diversity in terms of leadership at the company (2018).

The impact of the gender discrimination suit against Nike resulted in a review of Human Resource and the practices on training and inclusion (Jones, 2018). Training ads value to an employee and with value comes increases in both salaries and production. According to Jones (2018), new management training at the company is now mandatory. Inclusion would allow the employees the opportunity to give feedback and/or input on decisions that are directed toward change. In doing this all of the employees will have the opportunity to become acclimated with anticipated changes that are being made within the company.

An article by Alexia F. Campbell of Vox Media (2018) claims that the company has released a statement that claims to have created “mandatory manager training that reinforces the role of respect, inclusion, and accountability that will roll out to people managers globally in 2018.” The company also states that it has “increased our investment in leadership training and accountability, our diversity and inclusion teams and programs, and all-employee focused programming and training on our culture” according to the company’s sustainability report (Campbell, 2018). The article also states that the lawsuit wants the company to financially compensate female employees for allegedly hindering their chances for advancement in their careers. It is also noted specifically in the suit that a demand to mandate the company to develop standards within the company that would be determinants in evaluating performance, and making decisions that would determine advancements within the company (2018).

Human resource has been defined as the strategic approach to the effective management of people in an organization in order to help the business to gain a competitive advantage. It is designed to maximize employee performance in service of an employer’s strategic objectives and it is also in place to provide direction and guidance for people who work at a company or organization. It was devised to oversee the proper management of people in the workplace so that the company may thrive free of controversy that could exist among the employees of the business.

The Human resource department of Nike was accused of mishandling and ignoring complaints that were brought against male employees of the company. According to Lou, “Nike human resources department was largely unresponsive to their repeated complaints” (2018). According to the lawsuit, Sara Johnston filed complaints with the human resource department detailing inappropriate propositions, and mistreatment by a male harasser after rejecting his propositions. The complaints were allegedly mishandled by HR alleging that a director of HR told her to “be less sensitive to these messages, and that people should expect more such messages” (Lou, 2018). Statements such as these should not be rendered as a means to govern complaints in the workplace and proper procedure should always be followed when both filing a complaint as well as when conducting a full investigation in order to remedy the situation.

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In an effort to combat discrimination and harassment, sensitivity training as well as proper management screening policies in Human Resource could possibly be implemented. These policies could include but are not limited to structured interview processes where each potential employee is asked standard questions during the interview process and no control is present. In an effort to fairly employ the best candidate for a position this process will eliminate biases based on gender, race, creed, color and religion. According to the EEOC website, “gender and racial discrimination are two forms of discrimination that are not compliant with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines,” and the Federal Equal Pay Act was established to eliminate wage disparities based on gender. It would be idea for potential employers to adhere to the guidelines set by both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Federal Equal Pay Act in making hiring decisions as well as in making decisions for promotions, demotions, or anytime there is a transition taking place in a company.

This case against the Nike Company did not receive as much attention from the media as other cases that are brought against major corporations. Although there was no public community outreach concerning this case many people are able identify with the injustices of gender discrimination, racial discrimination and sexual harassment within the workplace. Many have been afraid of coming forward out of fear of retaliation however, people today are banding together and coming forward to stand for what is legal in terms of equality, justice, and human rights. The community within the Nike Corporation internally supported the claims after legal proceedings and the company has since recognized and acknowledged some of the unfair practices that are not conducive to proper workplace behavior and they are working to ensure a fair and productive work environment for all of their employees (Jones, 2018).


  1. Hsu, T. (2018, Aug 11). Ex-employees sue Nike, detailing a culture of bias. New York Times Retrieved from
  2. Jones, C. (2018, Aug 10). Nike is hit with lawsuit by former employees who say they faced gender discrimination. USA Today (Online) Retrieved from
  3. Lou, M. (2018). Ex-employees sue Nike for gender discrimination. Huffington Post Retrieved from
  4. Meyersohn, N. (2018, Aug 10). ‘Women are devalued and demeaned’ at Nike, two ex-employees say in lawsuit. CNN Wire Service Retrieved from
  5. Woo, Stu. “Nike Hit with Lawsuit from Ex-Employees Alleging Discrimination; Allegations Follow a Series of Complaints about Inappropriate Workplace Behavior at the Sportswear Giant.” Wall Street Journal (Online), Aug 10, 2018. ProQuest,

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Gender Discrimination Lawsuit against Nike. (2021, Mar 05). Retrieved from