Athletes’ Testosterone Blamed for Environment of Sexual Harassment at Nike

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When your workplace has an environment of sexual harassment it can feel like no one is listening to your complaints and there's nothing you can do. An anonymous survey that swept through Nike revealed the company's focus on athletes had created a locker room mentality. The environment of sexual harassment at Nike drove women away and caused supervisors to ignore complaints of discrimination.

In this blog post, I will review reports of executives leaving as part of a sexual harassment scandal at Nike. I will explain how a survey revealing a hostile work environment of sexual harassment led to sweeping changes in leadership. I will discuss options available to employees who feel like office culture prevents them from speaking up.

Anonymous Surveys Lead to Shake-Ups at Nike

On March 5, 2018, a group of women employees delivered a packet of anonymous survey questionnaires to Nike CEO Mark Parker. The questionnaires revealed an environment of sexual harassment across departments, ranging from lower level IT to vice presidents.

When news of the questionnaires went public, the New York Times began to interview the women of Nike - both current and former employees:

"There were the staff outings that started at restaurants and ended at strip clubs. A supervisor who bragged about the condoms he carried in his backpack. A boss who tried to forcibly kiss a female subordinate, and another who referenced a staff member’s breasts in an email to her.Then there were blunted career paths. Women were made to feel marginalized in meetings and were passed over for promotions. They were largely excluded from crucial divisions like basketball. When they complained to human resources, they said, they saw little or no evidence that bad behavior was being penalized."

Many of the stories were shared under the cover of anonymity due to non-disclosure agreements or fear of retaliation.

In response to the surveys, no less than 11 Nike executives and senior managers resigned, retired, or announced they would be leaving the company. That includes Nike president Trevor Edwards, vice president and general manager of global categories Jayme Martin, and Antoine Andrews, the head of diversity and inclusion.

Athlete's Testosterone Said to Contribute to Environment of Sexual Harassment

Workplace culture doesn't form overnight. It often isn't the result of a handful of bad actors either. Instead, an environment of sexual harassment is formed over time, as bad behavior is excused and supervisors' conduct make women feel they have no choice but to leave to avoid discrimination. It can depend on hiring choices and training, as well as the employer's response to allegations of sexual harassment. D'Wayne Edwards, a former designer for the Jordan Brand of Nike products, told NPR that the "laser focus on the athlete at Nike" was affecting workplace culture:

"'There are certain pockets of the company where that jock kind of mentality does exist ... And I guess it spills over into some of the corporate processes.' ... At Nike, he says the culture around athletics and the tendency to hire athletes meant a lot of people didn't understand 'that this is not the locker room. This is a corporate environment, and there's a different way to act and behave.'"

The environment of sexual harassment at Nike has caused a lot of talent to leave, and not just the executives and supervisors who have resigned due to the scandal. Female employees have been leaving when their concerns went unanswered.

Ann Wallace, an IT professional, was forced to leave her position with the company after she was asked to meet with potential candidates at a conference and ask for their room numbers. "I didn't feel comfortable asking a random guy for his room number," she told NPR. Wallace didn't file a complaint because other times when she had reported misconduct she was told she was too sensitive, or that it would be hard to fire people. She felt nothing would change if she complained. Instead she left, along with 5 other IT employees.

Finding Solutions to an Environment of Sexual Harassment

The questionnaires and the resignations at Nike show that sometimes there are solutions to an environment of sexual harassment. The challenge can be finding a way to have your concerns taken seriously. Internal processes may not be helpful when the hostile work environment includes those reviewing the complaints.

In those cases, you may need to look outside the company for help. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, as well as state laws across the country make it illegal for companies to ignore sexual harassment in the workplace. An experienced sexual harassment attorney can help you get through to your employer and make it clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable at work. If conduct in the workplace is severe enough, you may be entitled to file a complaint with Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) or even file a complaint in state or federal court.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our employment discrimination attorneys know how to disrupt an environment of sexual harassment. Even if you don't have an envelope full of questionnaires like the ladies of Nike, we can help you build support for your position. Depending on your priorities and your circumstances, we can negotiate with your employer for changes at work, or file an EEOC complaint or lawsuit on your behalf to get compensation for your losses and damages. Escaping an environment of sexual harassment is never easy, but we can help. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to an employment discrimination attorney.

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