Four women filed suit against Nike, claiming the company fostered a culture of unequal treatment and sexual harassment.
The class-action lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Portland, is one of the first to hit the footwear and apparel company since a number of complaints about pay disparities and bullying became public earlier this year.
Nike parted ways with at least 11 executives in March and April.
Laura Salerno Owens, an employment lawyer at Markowitz Herbold in Portland, told the Oregonian the executive purge was too little, too late. “Nike has a real good-old-boy’s culture,” she said.
“Women came into the company paid less than men, then they are ranked more harshly and, as a result, got smaller raises and bonuses. I think Nike wants to say that ‘Just a couple people were responsible for the problem and we've gotten rid of them.’ But we know that's certainly not the case.”
The Oregonian published a lengthy piece about the company’s former brand president, Trevor Edwards, Nike’s troubled culture and why he was the first to go in last spring's executive purge.
The plaintiffs accuse Nike of violating the Federal Equal Pay Act; the Oregon Equal Pay Act; and the Oregon Equality Act. However, they don't ask for specific monetary damages. Rather they seek a court order requiring Nike to pay its employees fairly without regard to gender.
Last month, the company’s top human resources executive, Monique Matheson, acknowledged that Nike had failed to promote enough women.
She wrote to staff to say the company wants “to create a culture of true inclusion. As part of our plan, we need to improve representation of women and people of color.”
The memo, obtained by the Wall Street Journal, added: “While we’ve spoken about this many times, and tried different ways to achieve change, we have failed to gain traction – and our hiring and promotion decisions are not changing senior-level representation as quickly as we have wanted.”
“The numbers don't lie,” Salerno Owens told the newspaper. “On a global scale, currently 77 percent of Nike’s leadership team are men; 71 percent of its vice presidents are men; and 62 percent of its directors and senior directors are men."
Salerno Owens added: “I've represented more than 50 Nike employees, and their experiences have been consistent with the plaintiffs.' The more senior the job title, the smaller the percentage of women.”