Transgender former worker sues Nike
A transgender former worker has sued Nike, the Beaverton sportswear giant, and an employment agency over allegations of discrimination, retaliation and violation of whistleblowing protections.
The former worker uses the pseudonym Jazz Lyles and filed the lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Portland civil rights lawyer Shenoa Payne represents the worker, who is seeking $195,000 in economic damages and $950,000 in noneconomic damages, also known as "pain and suffering."
A request for comment has not yet drawn a response from Nike.
The worker was recruited by Mainz Brady, an employment agency based in San Mateo, Calif., and was at Nike from May 1, 2017, until Sept. 4, 2018, mostly under contract as a senior applications engineer on its experiments and optimizations team.
During this period, Lyles alleged harassment from several co-workers — and their supervisors' failure to intervene — and a lack of policy or procedures by Nike to require employees to refer to other employees by their self-identified gender. The lawsuit says the co-workers repeatedly referred to "she" and "her," rather than "they" and "them."
The lawsuit alleges discrimination based on gender and gender identity as defined by Oregon law.
It says in part:
"In efforts to maintain a positive brand image and reputation, Nike has stressed inclusivity with its 'Be True' campaign, emphasizing equality and diversity to the public, and utilizing transgender athletes as part of that campaign. However, behind closed doors, Nike's culture is one of inequality and pervasive harassment for those who do not fit the gender stereotypes and mold of the dominant cisgender white male culture.
"At all relevant times, Nike fostered a widespread and pervasive hostile environment for employees who do not conform to gender stereotypes and expectations created by cisgender males… This environment experienced by other employees directed contributed to the hostile environment plaintiff experienced due to their gender and gender identity."
The lawsuit notes that Nike conducted relevant training for the team on Jan. 25, 2018, but training was limited only to the team and took place only because one of its members was a transgender person.
The lawsuit also alleges that Nike engaged in retaliation when it did not move Lyles into a permanent position with the company after the contract ended. The suit says Nike did conduct an investigation into the allegations, which closed in May 2019, but Mainz Brady did not.
Later, Lyles sought and won a release from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries — which enforces the state's civil rights law — to sue Nike and Mainz Brady in court. The lawsuit was filed Dec. 16, just before the bureau's 90-day window closed.
Payne filed a separate motion in Multnomah County court to allow Lyles to use the pseudonym in court proceedings. Payne said Lyles is living in California and wants to avoid compounding personal harm if a birth name is used.
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