Judge Sides With Nike in Recent Development in Gender Discrimination Suit

A gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Nike by a group of female employees will not be eligible as a class action suit, an Oregon judge ruled this week.

The suit, initially filed in August 2018 by two former female Nike employees, alleged that 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.

Two more women and former Nike employees were previously added to the suit as well and attorneys for the plaintiffs sought a class action status for the complaint, which typically leads to a settlement rather than trial. The plaintiffs were pushing for the lawsuit to represent at least 5,200 current and former salaried corporate female employees at Nike’s HQ.

In denying to certify of the class, U.S. District Court Judge Marco A. Hernández ruled in agreement with a November decision from U.S. District Court Judge Magistrate Jolie Russo, which said that the plaintiffs did not “establish a common question of law or fact capable of class-wide resolution for starting pay and their disparate impact claims.”

The remaining plaintiffs can still represent themselves, but they may not serve as representatives of the other 5,200 Nike employees.

FN has reached out to Nike for a comment.

Laura Salerno Owens, president and shareholder at Markowitz Herbold PC and counsel for the plaintiffs, previously FN in a statement that her side would file an appeal.

“While we are disappointed by the ruling, our clients are not deterred,” Salerno Owens. “The evidence shows that there is a statistically significant disparity among pay for women compared to pay for men at Nike. We are confident that our clients will have the opportunity to hold Nike accountable for the policies that discriminated against its female employees.”

The initial plaintiffs in the complaint, Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston, resigned from their roles in 2017. Cahill had worked as a communications director at the company for close to four years, while Johnston had been employed as an analyst for around a decade.

According to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon, both quit because they were being paid less than their male colleagues for substantially similar work and purportedly had fewer promotion opportunities. They also alleged that Nike’s HR department failed to adequately address their grievances after they brought complaints internally.

In seeking a class action status, plaintiffs alleged that women in the company made, on average, about $11,000 less than male employees. Russo explained that while the plaintiffs showed that there was a statistically significant pay disparity between women and men, they did not provide “a statistical analysis demonstrating on a class-wide basis that starting pay is lower for women and higher for men” in cases when hiring managers used prior pay to determine starting pay.

In December, a series of documents highlighting details about the allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at Nike was unsealed to the public, following a legal push from various publications with an interest in covering the news. The documents, which include thousands of pages of records of handwritten and typed surveys and interviews, alleged a culture of harassment and intimidation for female employees working in what some described as Nike’s “boy’s club.”

The initial 2018 lawsuit came less than four months after a report in The New York Times described a “toxic” boys’ club culture at Nike, allegedly prompted by an anonymous internal survey conducted by a group of female employees that addressed sexual harassment, demeaning comments, unfair treatment and other purported misconduct, which they delivered to then-CEO Mark Parker.

In April of 2018, 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% of its workforce to help correct pay inequity.

This story was originally published in November 2022 and has been updated to reflect recent developments.

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