- Under Armour can go to trial over a lawsuit filed by a former employee alleging she was fired for reporting complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct to her supervisor, according to a court order filed Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia (Pajak v. Under Armour, No. 21-0484 (N. D. W.V. March 30, 2023)).
- The employee, the regional director of the East and Canada regions of Under Armour Retail, said she was retaliated against after informing her supervisor that female workers had complained to her about a male regional manager. That manager allegedly performed a shirtless striptease, posted a photo of himself in a Speedo on social media and made jokes about a #MeToo story in The Wall Street Journal about Under Armour. Another male district manager allegedly commented on a female co-worker’s appearance. Under Armour said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.
- The employee said she was notified that her supervisor wanted her to leave nine days after she had a performance review citing no concerns. She refused to leave and was placed on a performance improvement plan, to later be fired, the court filing said. The court said there was “ample evidence in the record to establish a prima facie case” that Under Armour and the employee’s supervisor “were engaging in a discriminatory firing.”
The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission defines retaliation as punishing employees or candidates for participating in “protected activity,” which includes talking to a supervisor about employment discrimination or harassment, participating in an investigation of alleged harassment or intervening to protect others from sexual advances, among other things.
In the Under Armour case, the jury will decide if Under Armour and the employee’s supervisor violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act for retaliatory discharge because the employee worked remotely from West Virginia and will determine if Under Armour is guilty of negligent retention of the employee’s supervisor.
In its order, the court wrote that, “Pajak has produced sufficient affirmative evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that she was terminated because of her sex and her reports of sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Retaliatory conduct that happens in close time proximity to complaints of discrimination can land employers in hot water fast. In September, EEOC filed a lawsuit against a dental supply company for allegedly firing a sales representative the day after she complained to human resources about a manager’s discriminatory conduct. The sales rep allegedly was fired after she told her HR manager that her branch manager gave her accounts to a male colleague and created a hostile work environment.