It was an ad for Nike – a celebration of women and sports in conjunction with International Women’s Day that was inspiring and beautifully drawn to bring tears to your eyes.
“One day, we won’t need a day to celebrate how far we’ve come,” said a young reporter in her voice. “We won’t need a day to prove that we are strong and fast and skilled.”
The 2021 campaign did not mention that a group of women workers are suing the company, alleging discrimination, harassment and an $11,000-a-year salary. It goes without saying that for three years Nike has been fighting fiercely in court to keep the internal documents secret and out of sight.
The document, which has just been released under the pressure of the plaintiffs in the case and, in contrast, the media agreement, presents a vivid picture of women who are frustrated by the wage gap, victimized by what some have called “bro” culture where progress depends on who you know. not your skills.
The Nike papers contain stories of women, few known by name, who worked at the company, angry and fearful of retaliation.
The documents show the power of alleged harassment and disparate pay that rocked Nike’s Portland campus in 2018, leading to the departure of two executives and the firing of nearly a dozen managers.
A woman who has not been named reluctantly told a group of company officials what happened to her with a male co-worker.
One of the participants in the meeting wrote what he later entered the court, the employee said that he was not bothered until the borrower came: “They threatened him. He would not stop. Boys club behavior. He knew that he could leave. The most worrying thing is that he reported the matter to HR and nothing happened.”
One complained in an email to the diversity and inclusion group that he was being paid $10,000 to $15,000 less than his peers.
“I have been in this job for two years,” wrote the woman, “and although it has been recognized that my salary is low, I have begun to feel helpless in my current situation.”
Months of back-and-forth ensued as company officials tried to verify whether the woman’s claims were valid. In the end he confirmed that he was being paid less.
But the matter suddenly became irrelevant when the employee resigned. In an email to a friend, a Nike employee familiar with the case expressed surprise at his departure: “Crazy after all this on the $.”
Many of the complaints included in the newly released documents came from an investigation called Starfish, an illegal effort launched by a minority of female employees who were concerned about Nike’s school culture and how it affected their younger, younger peers. The survey, which was conducted without the knowledge of administrators, asked itself about issues of discrimination and harassment. “If it happened to you we want to know,” read the headline on the Starfish form.
Others gave their accounts in consultation with lawyers.
The idea that men of bad character were being protected was widespread, the records show. “Some workers (especially men) are protected because of who they are and who their colleagues are, despite the fact that they are not very good,” said a woman. “We continue to ‘fund’ these people and they occupy a very important place in the company.”
The most frequent complaints were about the atmosphere of the boys’ club and the lax behavior of the male managers.
A woman said she witnessed a Nike manager receiving oral sex from a female employee in the massage room at the company’s stadium. He left the room as fast as he could. Shocked and dismayed, he still rejected the idea of continuing the story with Nike’s top company. “No, he is very tall.” I don’t want to quit my job.”
One of the few women identified in the newly released documents is Lauren Anderson, who is also one of the 14 defendants in the case. Anderson felt that the challenges of her work at Nike were hindered by a male manager who worked with her in digital marketing. He often felt inferior and out of place.
“There was an incident where we were at a venue that was very disrespectful,” Anderson said in response. “It was a late-night meeting with a group of employees, basically our whole team.”
The woman’s boss got up from the table, stood in front of her “with his fist in my face” and told her to have sex, Anderson said.
A Nike attorney who was present at the meeting said the man left the company after Anderson complained about his behavior.
“I think it was the summer of 2018 when all the heads turned,” Anderson said. “There are a lot of great leaders who have left or been fired.”
Indeed, 2018 was a watershed year for Nike.
After the women who did the Starfish survey presented their findings CEO Mark Parker, publicly announced that he was aware of the behavior of Nike employees who “did not meet the company’s standards.” The company vowed to fix things, starting with a “complete review of our HR practices and procedures.”
At the time, Parker announced that Trevor Edwards, who was the company’s second most powerful CEO at Parker, was stepping down.
“In the past few weeks, we have been aware of the practices taking place in our organization that do not reflect what we need in terms of inclusion, respect and strength at a time when we are accelerating our transition to another stage of growth and progress. Our culture,” Parker wrote to employees in 2018. “This confuses and saddens me.”
The 2018 memo provided revealing numbers on the growth of women at Nike.
Overall, Nike employees were 51% male, 49% female. But among the workers who are called “human leaders,” the ratio was 59% male, 41% female. Among “leadership / management,” the ratio was 64% men, 36% women.
Laura Salerno-Owens, a Portland-based attorney for the plaintiffs, said the documents, as well as initial statements from Nike officials, help bolster their case. He cited Parker’s admission in 2018.
Nike did not return emails. But in court, the company denied at all that the employee discriminated or retaliated against the plaintiffs.
Nike’s attorneys wrote: “To the extent Plaintiffs allege that one of Nike’s employees discriminated against them or retaliated against them,” Nike’s attorneys wrote, “Nike denies such allegations and asserts that such conduct, if any: (1) was outside for training. and the extent of the employee’s work; (2) was not authorized by Nike; and/or (3) was performed without Nike’s knowledge or consent.”
Also, Nike said, the prosecution fails to make a convincing case.
His lawyers wrote: “They are arguing only with speculation, instead of telling the truth.”
In 2019, at Nike’s request, US Supreme Court Justice Jolie Russo approved a protective order that would make most of the evidence provided by the company unavailable to the public. It was necessary to protect witnesses from “annoyance, embarrassment, harassment or improper property or money,” Russo said.
Three news organizations – The Oregonian/OregonLive, Portland Business Journal and the digital company Insider, which led the effort – intervened in the case and urged the judge to reveal the documents. The press argued that the gag order violated the constitutional principles of open courts and the First Amendment right of the public to review court records.
Russo slightly upgraded the gag order in November. The plaintiffs’ lawyers wasted no time in filing the redacted documents in the civil court file.
In court filings, Nike denied that it acted unconscionably in keeping internal documents under seal.
“In the spirit of cooperation and good faith, Nike will do everything they can to ensure that more people come [of the material provided by the company] unedited and open to the public,” the company said in court filings. “The limited material that Nike seeks to redact is based on Nike’s production of the plaintiffs, which contains confidential, commercial and/or confidential information of non-participants in these lawsuits.”
The gaming giant reportedly handed over 995,000 pages of records for about 13,400 employees. Lawyers for the women workers argue that Nike has yet to release the key documents they requested.
The prosecutors, for example, sought internal documents related to Edwards, the chief executive who was seen as a possible successor to Parker as CEO of Nike, and David Ayre, who ran Nike’s Human Resources department from 2007 to 2017.
Both were lightning bolts of criticism in 2018 when the controversy reached its peak. Ayre had previously announced that Nike achieved approximately 99% equality between men and women, which has been disputed.
Russo ordered Nike to provide the appropriate documents implicating the management. Initially the company issued 15 unique documents naming Edwards and six naming Ayre.
Salerno-Owens said that Nike eventually provided additional documents related to the two executives, but no new documents contained decisions related to promotions, salaries, discrimination or sudden termination of employment.
Nike said it searched for documents involving Edwards and Ayre and found none.
“A court cannot order a party to produce documents that do not exist,” Nike’s attorney wrote in a brief in the discovery battle.
Nike also objected to the public release of some documents of the plaintiffs, including the findings of an expert witness that on average Nike men are paid about $ 11,000 more per year than women in similar positions.
Nike said the latter was “deeply wrong” and that the disclosure would “only encourage public humiliation.”
Jeff Feldman, a University of Washington law professor and civil rights expert, said he had never heard of a discovery process that took as long as the Nike case — approaching five years now.
“Ideology wars are common,” he said. “But five years is a long time.”
Nike lost the battle to keep its records out of sight. But it may have won the battle.
In December, Russo denied the plaintiffs’ request that their complaint be considered a class action; this would make the case less expensive for Nike. Instead of representing every woman working at Nike, the lawyers are representing only 14 women who agreed to give their names as plaintiffs.
The women’s lawyers have appealed the decision. US District Judge Marco Hernández is currently reviewing both sides’ arguments.