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Former Nike contractor sues company for not using the right pronouns

A computer engineer and former employee of Nike’s has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Nike for what they says is gender identity-based discrimination.
Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal, QC

A computer engineer and employee of Nike’s has filed an official civil rights lawsuit against the company for what the disgruntled employee says is gender identity-based discrimination.

Jazz Lyles, who uses the pronouns “they/them/their,” worked for the company out their Beaverton, Oregon headquarters. Lyles’ lawsuit, which was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, claims that Nike and Mainz Brady, California-based IT staffing firm, put her through discrimination, harassment, and retaliation for dismissing her request to use her they/them pronouns.

Lyles, whose gender identity is transmasculine/non-binary, made a comfortable $62.50 an hour working for the company as a programmer. But the wage wasn’t enough for her to push aside what Lyles felt was discrimination.

According to Lyles, Nike employees never considered her requests to be identified by the proper pronouns, a practice widely known as “misgendering.”

As reported by Williamette Week, Lyles “politely but firmly communicated with peers and managers, seeking to help them understand why being referred to by the correct pronouns was important,” to minimal result. One colleague responded to Lyles by saying “Hey, girl, what’s up?” and another employee refused to use the terms on the basis of religion.

Lyles would eventually take medical leave due to the amount of stress Lyles experienced working with those who misgendered her, and following the end of her contract with Nike, filed her lawsuit, claiming that Nike failed to protect Lyles’s civil rights, disabling her from being able to obtain a full-time job at the company.

“Nike had a pattern and practice of turning a blind eye to reported and known harassment,” reads the lawsuit. “Instead of blaming the harassed, treating them as the problem and as troublemakers, all the while failing to ever investigate or take corrective action to remedy the harassment.”

A Nike spokesman says that the clothing-giant refuses to comment on the case, but stated that “Nike is committed to a culture of diversity, inclusion and respect where everyone can succeed and realize their full potential.”

The un-inclusive case is one that may not align with the perception that many have of Nike. The company has made various treks into the world of wokeness, including their controversial teaming with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains a free agent to this day following well-documented scandal that has lasted years.

An earlier response to the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) through its law firm from spokesperson Stoel Rives says the company dismisses Lyles’ complaint.

“Lyles was a mediocre [contractor] with a limited skill set,” wrote Rives, going on to say that Lyles’ was refused employment based on a hiring freeze and not from gender discrimination. “Lyles’ allegations are without merit.”

An independent investigation by BOLI investigators, though, found that Nike employees working with Lyles’ stating that Lyles’ account of the events support Lyles’ story, noting that Nike was not fully prepared to integrate a non-binary transmasculine worker.

Two managers told BOLI that no one was “aware of [Lyles’] preferred pronouns.”

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Roberto Wakerell-Cruz
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