News and Commentary

Former Employee Sues Nike For $1.1 Million, Claims Preferred Pronouns Were Ignored
An American multinational sportswear corporation Nike logo seen in Shanghai.
Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This week, a former Nike contractor who identifies as a man filed a lawsuit against Nike and a staffing firm that hires for Nike, alleging that they permitted a hostile work environment in which the contractor’s preferred pronouns were not used.

As CBS News reports, computer engineer Jazz Lyles, who was employed by Nike between May 2017 and September 2018 and “identifies as transmasculine and prefers the pronouns they/them/their,” is asking for $1.1 million in damages. The suit claims that Nike did not implement necessary changes to address the reported hostile environment.

The lawsuit states, “When someone refuses to acknowledge a person’s gender identity or insists on referring to them by a gender to which they do not identify (called misgendering), this causes real and significant harm. This is particularly true when a person is misgendered repeatedly on a daily basis.” It also states, according to biz, “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.”

In response, Nike stated that it “is committed to a culture of diversity, inclusion and respect where everyone can succeed and realize their full potential.”

Lyles said in September 2018, after filing a workplace discrimination complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, “They talked a great game on LGBTQ issues, but when you ask them to actually stand up for these issues, it gets communicated to you that you are the problem.” Willamette Week reported:

Lyles started at Nike’s campus on May 1, 2017, working on IT teams that combined independent contractors with Nike employees and supervisors. Lyles was paid $62.50 an hour. Lyles says from the beginning, colleagues insisted on referring to them as “she” and “her” and greeting them by saying such things as “Hey, girl, what’s up?”

According to CBS News, the suit claims that coworkers termed Lyles “stupid” and “unstable.” Other complaints: one colleague reportedly told Lyles, “I know I’m not supposed to call you ‘she-male,'” another employee allegedly eschewed working with Lyles, and another refused to use Lyles’ preferred pronouns for religious reasons.

CBS News stated, “ … reports to the companies allegedly resulted in retaliation against Lyles, who was told they could ask for reassignment at the expense of their career or see their work further impeded by coworkers, the complaint said. On one occasion, Lyles was removed three times by a colleague from a Slack channel the engineer required to complete certain work, the complaint said.”

The company did administer training regarding gender pronouns, according to the lawsuit, but it made Lyles feel singled out and made tensions worse.

In the complaint filed with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Lyles stated of the training implemented by the company: “It again singled me out, made me a problem, and exacerbated the issues with my team. It would be like holding a training on racial sensitivity with the only team with a black person on it.”