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Transgender plaintiff files $1.1 million lawsuit against former employer Nike for exposure to incorrect gender pronouns

Jazz Lyles — a biological female who identifies as 'transmasculine/nonbinary' — uses 'they/them/their'

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jazz Lyles — who was born female but identifies as "transmasculine/nonbinary" — has sued former employer Nike for exposure to gender identity-based discrimination and harassment and retaliation, specifically for using gender pronouns the plaintiff doesn't identify with, Willamette Week reported.

CBS News reported that Lyles' suit seeks $1.1 million in damages and that it also named Mainz Brady Group, a staffing firm that hired workers for Nike.

What are the details?

Lyles alleges that before coming to work as a $62.50-per-hour computer engineer at Nike's Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters in 2017, the plaintiff specified wanting to be referred to by "they/them/their" pronouns — but that other employees of the sportswear giant allegedly disregarded Lyles' requests and engaged in "misgendering," the outlet said.

More from Willamette Week:

Emails and other electronic messages show Lyles politely but firmly communicated with peers and managers, seeking to help them understand why being referred to by the correct pronouns was important. One colleague responded by greeting Lyles, "Hey, girl, what's up?" Another told them that using Lyles' pronouns was against her religion.

Lyles cycled through three assignments, becoming increasingly wounded by co-workers using the wrong pronouns. Eventually, they took medical leave and worked primarily from home before their contract ended last fall. In their lawsuit, Lyles says Nike managers failed to safeguard Lyles' civil rights and blocked them from obtaining a full-time Nike job, as many contractors do.

"Nike had a pattern and practice of turning a blind eye to reported and known harassment," the lawsuit states, according to the outlet, "instead blaming the harassed, treating them as the problem and as troublemakers, all the while failing to ever investigate or take corrective action to remedy the harassment."

Mainz Brady did not respond to requests for comment, CBS News said.

What did Nike have to say?

But Nike spokesman Greg Rossiter told Willamette Week the company will not comment on Lyles' case but did say that the corporation "is committed to a culture of diversity, inclusion, and respect where everyone can succeed and realize their full potential."

In an earlier response to Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries through its law firm, Stoel Rives, Nike dismissed Lyles' complaint, the outlet said.

"Lyles was a mediocre [contractor] with a limited skill set," Stoel Rives wrote, according to Willamette Week, adding that a hiring freeze, not discrimination, was why Lyles failed to land a full-time job at Nike — and that "Lyles' allegations are without merit."

What did two Nike employees have to say?

Paddu Ramachandran — a Nike manager Lyles worked for after the plaintiff's first assignment on the Beaverton campus led to repeated misgendering — told BOLI, "None of us were aware of their preferred pronouns," the outlet reported.

Allen Harper — another manager of Lyles — agreed with Ramachandran, telling BOLI that after Lyles raised the issue of misgendering, "we'd started having conversations about it being a problem with Nike Digital as a whole," Willamette Week added.

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