In covert surveys and ongoing interviews with the New York Times, female employees at Nike described a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and marginalization. There are accounts of epithets being used against subordinates, inappropriate talk about body parts and numerous trips to strip clubs in conjunction with staff outings. As a result of these revelations, several top Nike executives have resigned or announced their plans to do so.
Nike’s entrance into the #MeToo movement is just another example of how disregarded sexual harassment claims are a sign of workplace discrimination in America’s business environment. According to many legal professionals, however, cases like the ones coming out of Nike may be difficult to litigate because the legal standard for workplace harassment is very technical. It requires severe or frequent offensive conduct against a member of a protected class. Common sense doesn’t always match the legal standard.
The legal result of many harassment and discrimination cases comes down to the defendant’s frame of mind when making decisions. Comments, memos, emails, texts and other forms of communication can be used to show whether or not, for example, a supervisor decided not to promote a woman because she rejected his sexual advances. To the victim, the issue may seem clear, but lack of supporting evidence may prevent others from acting appropriately.
Those who face discrimination in the workplace may not know the best way to deal with the abuse they experience. While the #MeToo movement has helped more people exercise their rights, many remain marginalized. It’s the responsibility of lawyers who practice in this area of the law to help individuals hold their abusers accountable for their behavior. Workers who are going through this difficult situation may wish to consult a lawyer about their options.