Nike Inc. has denied the claims of a former employee who alleged it discriminated against him on the basis of his race.
Ahmer Inam, who worked as a senior director in data analytics at Nike until his December resignation, filed suit against the company in March alleging it racially discriminated against him and subjected him to a “pattern of hostile and intimidating treatment, which differed markedly from the way” some of his white colleagues were treated.
In legal documents filed on May 23, Nike admitted that Inam reported concerns about his treatment to management and its human resources department. However, the Swoosh said it conducted a “thorough investigation,” including interviewing 35 witnesses who could not substantiate Inam’s claims. Nike also asserted that it “repeatedly referred [Inam] to resources such as the Employee Assistance Program” to help address some of his “mental health concerns” that arose over the course of his employment and alleged issues with discrimination.
Inam’s March lawsuit was the third in a wave of recent litigation Nike has faced alleging discrimination — but the first to outright accuse the firm of racial discrimination, whereas prior complaints focused on gender. All three filings followed an exposé in The New York Times that last April purported the existence of a “toxic” boys’ club culture at the company. (Although it is not a formal lawsuit, former Nike footwear developer Cecily Schmidt, who is African-American, filed a complaint with Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries alleging discrimination based on her race and, sex and a hostile work environment, in October.)
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Allegations Inam made against his former employer included claims that white staffers with similar qualifications were paid more than their minority peers; ethnic minorities were passed over for promotions; the company’s HR policies to combat discrimination and behavioral issues were ineffective; and that its HR department attempted to cover up issues.
In response to FN’s request for comment, Inam’s attorney, Dana Sullivan, a partner at Buchanan Angeli Altschul & Sullivan LLP, attempted to poke holes in Nike’s argument that it “promptly and thoroughly” investigated Inam’s complaints. (Nike said in its filing that it received a “demand notice” from Inam’s attorney in October while he was still employed at the company. It said its attorneys began investigating the matter after. The brand filed its response with the courts on May 23.)
“Notable in Nike’s response to Mr. Inam’s allegations is that the company admits that it took more than eight months to complete its investigation into Mr. Inam’s report of a racially hostile work environment,” Sullivan stated. “This delay distinguishes the company’s response to Mr. Inam’s complaint from its handling harassment complaints from white employees.”
Nike has not immediately responded to FN’s request for comment.