Nike under fire for failing to use transgender pronouns

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Photo: Yooran Park / Shutterstock

A story out of Oregon is illustrating the almost ridiculous confusion that arises when people in everyday life must adjust their language to fit the legally reinforced delusions of others.

A former Nike employee who worked at the company’s headquarters is suing the multibillion-dollar shoe giant and its staffing agency for gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation, the Willamette Week reports.

Jazz Lyles identifies as transmasculine/nonbinary, which in the Williamette article is defined as identifying with masculinity more often than femininity. Lyles was personally chosen in 2017 to work at Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. by California IT staffing agency Mainz Brady.

Lyles “stressed the importance” from the beginning that Nike would respect Lyles’ trans identity and the pronouns Lyles needs to be called. Staff at Nike’s Digital department took it upon themselves to “misgender” Lyles as a woman both in person and in digital correspondence, the suit says, despite Lyles’ insistence that Lyles does not “identify” as a woman.

At least one co-worker told Lyles it was against her religion, and would “compromise” her beliefs, to refer to Lyles in a way of which Lyles did not approve. Others declined to use Lyles’ pronouns or identity when corrected. At least one chose to ignore Lyles altogether rather than be told how to communicate with Lyles.

When Lyles was transferred to a new team in January 2018, employees there were allegedly even more resistant their new team member’s preferences. When gender identity training came to Nike HQ later that month, only some of the people that worked with Lyles were told to participate in it, not others in the department or other divisions, essentially ‘singling out’ Lyles as the issue.

After a year, Lyles took a medical leave and began working from home. When Lyles’ Nike manager tried to hire Lyles permanently, they were overruled due to what the company claims was a ‘hiring freeze’, and they let Lyles’ contract expire. Lyles filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) in Oregon in 2018 – to which Nike’s lawyers told the bureau that “Lyles was a mediocre [contractor] with a limited skill set.”

Although the company spokesperson for both Nike and Mainz Brady declined to comment on the matter to the Williamette Week, managers at Nike admitted during the BOLI inquiry that the company was “ill-prepared to integrate” a non-cisgender employee. Two of Lyles’ superiors claimed he never knew of their pronouns or gender identity, although that was consistently noted throughout the application process and Lyles’ employment. When it became an issue, they had to have division-wide “conversations” about the “problem” of respecting an employee’s identity.

Now, both Nike and their staffing agency will have to answer for their alleged problems in a court of law.

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