Metro Weekly

Transgender software engineer accuses Nike of workplace discrimination

Jazz Lyles says fellow contractors frequently misgendered and insulted them, and that supervisors failed to act

Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon – Photo: Coolcaesar, via Wikimedia.

A transgender software engineer is accusing Nike of failing to protect them from abuse and harassment at the hands of other contractors.

In the complaint, filed on Sept. 25, Jazz Lyles alleges that Nike and its IT contractor, Mainz Brady Group, discriminated against them and retaliated against them when they complained about their mistreatment, reports Willamette Week.

Lyles, who identifies as both transgender and nonbinary, says Nike billed itself to them as a good place for LGBTQ people to work, but they did not find that to be the case.

Lyles, who began working at Nike’s main headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in May 2017, says their supervisors ignored their complaints and requests to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns.

Lyles said that one fellow contractor refused to speak to them after they asked to be referred to as “they” or “them.” Another employee told Lyles she wouldn’t agree to their request, because using correct pronouns would violate her religious beliefs.

“Nike’s response and solution was not to take corrective action,” Lyles wrote in a complaint filed with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries. “But instead [the response] was to treat me like I was the problem.”

Nike eventually transferred Lyles to a different team, but nothing changed, and Lyles continued to receive pushback for asking to be referred to by their proper pronouns. 

Lyles says one female colleague even told them: “I’m really not sure what to call you. I know I’m not supposed to call you ‘shemale.'”

Due to Lyles’ complaints to supervisors, Nike provided employee training on gender issues in January 2018, but only for a handful of people who worked directly with Lyles.

“It again singled me out, made me a problem, and exacerbated the issues with my team,” Lyles wrote in the BOLI complaint. “It would be like holding a training on racial sensitivity with the only team with a black person on it.”

Lyles’ contract was extended twice, but the stress of being misgendered made the company a hostile place to work and even began affecting Lyles’ health.

“I felt invisible and unheard and silenced,” Lyles says. “Language has the ability to erase a person completely.”

In August, Lyles filed formal HR complaints with Mainz Brady and Nike and began working from home.

Lyles says their boss tried to hire Lyles as a full-time employee, but was overruled by others within the company. Lyles was then told that Nike had entered a “hiring freeze” and could not bring them on as a full-time employee — something that they believe isn’t true.

Lyles’ complaint asks that Nike and Mainz Brady compensate them for wages and benefits lost due to the discrimination they encountered on the job. It also asks for damages due to “humiliation, loss of self-esteem, and trauma, which was caused, triggered and exacerbated by the ongoing harassment.”

Nike has declined to comment on Lyles’ complaint, or on the general status of transgender and nonbinary employees working on its main campus.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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