Ex-employees sue Nike, cite pay inequality and gender bias - KPTV - FOX 12

Ex-employees sue Nike, cite pay inequality and gender bias

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

A newly-filed lawsuit joined by four Portland-area women alleges pay inequity and gender discrimination at Nike.

The suit, filed Thursday in Oregon U.S. District Court on behalf the ex-employees, is the latest development in the ongoing saga related to working conditions at the company, a worldwide footwear and sports apparel giant with headquarters in Beaverton.

The 39-page complaint seeks class action status and, according to attorneys, may represent at least 500 women who work at Nike. It highlights a culture of sexual harassment, in addition to women being hired at lower salaries than men - despite working in similar roles.

In addition, the suit argues that at Nike, "the numbers tell a story of a company where women are devalued and demeaned." It accuses the company of passing over women for promotions, maintaining a Human Resources department that ignored complaints of harassment and discrimination, and excluding some women from company recruiting parties that their male colleagues were invited to.

Describing a hierarchy of an "unclimbable pyramid" for female workers, an attorney on the case told FOX 12 her clients are seeking change at the company and an unknown amount of monetary damages.

"What we've heard from the named plaintiffs, and from other women as well, is that there's sort of an understanding at Nike that Human Resources is not going to really do much to help," said Laura Salerno Owens, a lead lawyer on the case with the firm Markowitz Herbold PC. "There is somewhat of a coverup culture, if you will, and a lot of retaliation."

Since the start of the year, nearly a dozen executives and managers have parted ways with the company. And in May, Nike's Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker promised change in compensation and training, including pay raises for about 10 percent of Nike's more than 70,000 employees around the world.

In a written response to the suit filed Thursday sent to FOX 12, a spokesperson said "Nike 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. We are not commenting on pending litigation."

Lawyers for Nike have not filed a written response to the complaint yet and a hearing date on the lawsuit has yet to be set.

Salerno Owens said one of the plaintiffs is so hopeful the company will make changes -- she even wants her job back.

"That's the thing that is so challenging about this. These women came to Nike initially because they wanted to work there," she said. "They really believed in it and wanted to work there, and then when they arrived they discovered that it wasn't an even playing field - and that's all we're really asking for here."

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