Ex-Nike employees sue company, alleging unequal compensation

PORTLAND, Ore. — Four women who used to work for Nike filed a federal lawsuit alleging the company violated state and U.S. equal-pay laws and fostered a work environment that allowed sexual harassment.

The suit filed Thursday in Portland, Oregon, is among the first to hit the company since complaints about pay and bad managers became public earlier this year, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Nike, based near Portland, responded to the controversy by ousting at least 11 executives earlier this year.

However, attorney Laura Salerno Owens, who filed the lawsuit, said Nike continues to have a "good-old-boy's culture" in which women enter the company with lower pay and receive 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," Owens said.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages and a court order requiring Nike to pay its employees fairly without regard to gender.

Nike officials declined comment on the lawsuit to The Oregonian and did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

Plaintiff Kelly Cahill worked for Nike for four years — much of that time as a brand marketing director for Nike.com. She claimed in the lawsuit that she was paid $20,000 a year less in 2017 than a male co-worker doing much the same job.

She says she filed four complaints against her boss — one of the 11 executives who left the company last spring. Nike's human resources department took no action, the suit alleges. Cahill quit and went to work for Adidas.

Sara Johnston alleges that a male co-worker made sexual advances and retaliated when she rejected his propositions. She complained to her boss in early 2016.

"In response, one of the directors said, in effect, that Nike has a culture that revolves around alcohol, that Ms. Johnston should let the incidents go," according to the lawsuit.

The situation escalated after Johnston claims she learned the same co-worker was propositioning other women and had groped another.

She again tried to lodge a complaint with human resources but the department took no action and the male co-worker was promoted to a position where he would work more closely with Johnston, who decided to quit, according to the suit.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Samantha Phillips and Tracee Cheng.

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com

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