Nike Sued Over Alleged Racial Profiling Incident in California

Nike Inc. has been hit with a lawsuit by a Black family who alleges they were victims of racial profiling at the retailer’s Santa Monica, Calif. store in July 2019.

In the federal civil rights suit filed on Saturday, Joel Stallworth and wife TaMiya Dickerson claim they were accused by white store manager Wendy Magee of stealing a $12 child-sized basketball from the Santa Monica outpost. According to the couple, Magee followed them and their infant son, then 19 months old, out of the store, accusing them of stealing the basketball before flagging down a police officer.

A video shared to Dickerson’s Facebook page shows Stallworth and Dickerson explaining that they had paid for the ball and procuring a receipt for officers. The husband and wife say they later went back in the store and returned the ball for a refund. Magee was fired after the incident and has filed a wrongful termination suit against Nike, according to the filing.

In the filing, Stallworth and Dickerson’s legal team writes that they tried to get the incident out of their minds but that it stayed with them, adding that “the depth of this harm cannot be overstated.” (Nike did not return a request from FN for comment.)

“To [Stallworth and Dickerson], Nike represented ‘one of the good guys.’ Living their lives as Black in America has its dangerous obstacles, but they were sure that Nike was on their side. Now they wonder, ‘If Nike is dangerous and remorseless, what refuge do we have left?'” the lawyers write in the filing. “Dickerson describes the feeling of betrayal as akin to witnessing a close family member that she looks up to turnout to be a serial abuser.”

In addition to their own incident, Dickerson and Stallworth claim the “out-of-control” Magee “persistently racially profiled employees and customers of color,” alleging that the former Nike employee told co-workers to follow the NBA star Tristan Thompson around the store. What’s more, Dickerson and Stallworth claim that multiple reports of Magee’s “racist and degrading behavior toward employees and customers” were made to Nike via its “anonymous” hotline, beginning in 2017.

“From its all-white executive leadership, to a history of Nike employees siccing the police on innocent Black customers, to Nike’s failure to address this particular manager’s history of racist behavior — Nike bears full responsibility for the horrifying and deeply embarrassing ordeal it put this family through,” the complaint reads.

As recourse, Dickerson and Stallworth are seeking damages for alleged violations of federal and state civil rights, as well as attorneys’ fees.

While the lawsuit addresses consumer discrimination, Nike has also faced a number of internal lawsuits. In August 2018, ex-employees, Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston filed a lawsuit against the sportswear giant alleging that it “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.

A second suit came in September 2018, when three Nike shareholders sued Nike founder Phil Knight, then-CEO Mark Parker and former Nike brand president Trevor Edwards, as well as 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.” Additionally, Ahmer Inam, an Indian man who worked as a senior director in data analytics at Nike, filed a suit in March 2019, accusing the company of passing him over for a promotion in favor of a less-qualified white applicant.

However, Nike has taken a number of recent steps to get its “house in order” with regard to racial equality under the helm of new  CEO John Donahoe, who took the reins from Parker this January. From June 19 to July 4, the company offered programming and learning opportunities to all employees on topics specific to racial inequality, and it gave workers the day off for Juneteenth (June 19). Outside of its doors, Nike — in partnership with Michael Jordan and inclusive of owned-brands Nike, Converse and Jordan — committed last month to donating $140 million toward the fight for racial equality over a four-year period.

Access exclusive content