Four former Nike employees filed suit against the company alleging they faced pay discrimination and sexual harassment while working at the corporate headquarters in Oregon. The women stated that were paid less than their male counterparts, were paid smaller bonuses and were less likely to be promoted within the company.

Questionnaire revealed culture of harassment and discrimination

The lawsuit follows on the heels of a questionnaire that was circulated by a group of women to female peers in the shoemaker’s Oregon headquarters. The survey asked female employees about their experiences with sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the company. The questionnaire revealed a culture of blatant sexual harassment and discrimination at Nike.

According to The New York Times, one woman described a boss that tried to forcibly kiss her. Three separate employees recalled hearing their male bosses refer to others as a derogatory term for female genitalia. Another male executive mentioned his employee’s breasts in an email to her.

Women working at Nike also described being talked over in meetings and passed over promotions in the company. They were also largely excluded from working in certain divisions within the company.

As behavior occurred over the years, some women said they reported it to human resources managers. Their complaints were largely ignored.

Survey results prompt executive ouster and investigation

The results of the questionnaire were provided to Mark Parker, Nike’s chief executive, in March. Since Parker received the survey, 11 male executives have left or have plans to leave Nike. The shoe company is also conducting an internal investigation.

Suit seeks financial compensation and policy change

For many female employees, these moves are simply too little and too late.

The former employees’ class-action suit stated that the company violated the Equal Pay Act, as well as policy governing sexual harassment. The women have requested not only financial compensation for harm to their careers, but also that Nike create employment standards that evaluate employees based on performance, and that these standards be used to determine pay and promotions. They also want a court-appointed monitor to ensure the company complies with these new standards.

Federal government protects against gender discrimination and harassment

The federal government established the Equal Pay Act in 1963. It prohibits employers from paying employees completing equivalent work different wages because of the employee’s gender.

The federal government also protects employees against sexual harassment. This prohibited harassment can include unwanted sexual advances, offensive comments about a person’s gender and other verbal and physical harassment that is sexual in tone.