News continues to crop up around Nike Inc.’s alleged workplace challenges.
The latest round of accusations comes from former Nike footwear developer Cecily Schmidt, who last month filed a complaint with Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries alleging discrimination based on her race and sex, a hostile work environment, retaliation for reporting unlawful conduct and violation of family medical leave laws, as first reported by the Portland Business Journal.
The complaint, which a spokesperson for BOLI told FN today is open and under investigation, provides detailed allegations against Nike and five of its employees. According to Schmidt, who identifies as African-American, her alleged experiences evidence Nike’s “history of, and continuing pattern … of sexual harassment against women” and its “[failure] to address systemic sex-based harassment and sexism” in the workplace.
Schmidt, who joined the company in 2012 and obtained her MBA soon after taking the role, said a number of male employees in her department “regularly engaged in sexist comments, utilized sexual innuendo, told offensive sexually charged jokes, trafficked in sexually disturbing images of women and treated her differently than male colleagues on the basis of her sex.”
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In one alleged incident, described in the complaint, Schmidt said a male employee played an unedited music video during a presentation that featured scantily clad women dancing in a sexually suggestive manner while the artist sang lyrics “that were highly derogatory towards women and contained racial slurs.” That same employee, according to Schmidt, regularly made “inappropriate statements” that “offended” her, including speaking “openly about his vasectomy” as well as cheating on his wife. Schmidt said the employee also “hit on women” in front of her during work trips.
Schmidt also claims she was paid less than comparably qualified male employees, had fewer opportunities for advancement and was held to a different performance standard than her male counterparts.
A supervisor, Schmidt claims, criticized her for not being “bubbly, friendly or playful enough for work,” and gave her a performance action plan to address those supposed issues. Nevertheless, shortly before Schmidt was to depart for a maternity leave, she was told her performance had “improved significantly” and that she was no longer on a performance plan. When she returned to work four months later, Schmidt suggested she was penalized for stepping away from her desk to express milk, subjected to a ”sex-based” hostile work environment, as well as another sexually inappropriate presentation, and received unwarranted warnings about her work performance.
Schmidt said she complained to Nike’s employee relations department on Feb. 6 about the alleged discrimination and purported hostile work environment. Three days later, on Feb 9, she was told of her termination, effective Feb. 16.
Schmidt, who said she was actively involved in the Nike Black Employee Network, stated that she was “stunned” to be let go since she had been recently notified of the minority-focused group’s plans to honor her as “Person of the Year.”
In an email exchange with FN today, a spokesperson for Nike said it could not comment on the recently filed complaints but that “Nike is committed to creating a culture of empowerment and respect where everyone can succeed and contribute to our success.”
The case follows a wave of 11 or so executive departures at the Swoosh this year after an April 2018 exposé by The New York Times detailed alleged systemic and widespread sexual harassment at the firm, which employs around 70,000 staffers. That same month, Nike admitted that it had fallen short in promoting women and people of color, and in July, it announced a plan to raise salaries for 10 percent of its workforce to help correct pay inequity.
Still, at least two lawsuits stemming from the saga have followed: In the first, two former female Nike employees in August alleged the company “intentionally and willfully” discriminated against women with regard to pay and promotions, and that its majority-male executives fostered a hostile work environment at its Portland, Ore., headquarters. (This case is seeking class action status and has reportedly seen about five other women join the litigation.)
The second came in September when three Nike shareholders sued Nike founder Phil Knight, CEO Mark Parker, and former Nike brand president Trevor Edwards and the company’s board, alleging that they “facilitated and knowingly ignored the hostile work environment that has now harmed, and threatens to further tarnish and impair, the company’s financial position.”
Throughout the imbroglio, Nike has maintained that it “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.”