;
Image: Unsplash

As “Black America is yearning for corporate responsibility,” Nike is coming under fire for allegedly profiling a Black couple and their 19-month old son based on their race. According to the strongly-worded lawsuit filed in a California federal court on July 4, Joel Stallworth and TaMiya Dickerson assert that they – and their young son – were “chased, harassed, and accosted by Wendy Magee,” the former manager for Nike’s Santa Monica outpost, after purchasing a mini basketball, an incident that made national headlines when it occurred back in July 2019, but for which Nike “refuses to meaningfully address, atone for, [or] rectify.”

Southern California-based Stallworth and Dickerson assert in the 45-page complaint that they filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California early this month that after purchasing a $12 basketball in Nike’s Santa Monica store last year, Magee chased them and accused them of stealing the ball and ultimately, enlisted the help of three Santa Monica Police Department officers, who “surrounded, detained, and intimidated” the couple, and “demanded proof that they hadn’t stolen the ball,” thereby, prompting Stallworth “to hand over the receipt” for the purchased product.

Despite her alleged lack of “reasonable suspicion, let alone probable cause” that they had stolen the ball, Stallworth and Dickerson claim that Magee “verbally attacked” them outside of the Nike store, accusing them of stealing the ball, and “treated [them] like dangerous criminals, put up for show in the middle of a busy promenade.” More than that, they claim that the manager “lied to [the police], telling them that Mr. Stallworth had stolen a child-size basketball,” and that the police did not take any “steps to confirm Magee’s story before surrounding the Stallworth-Dickerson family, touching their guns, and telling Mr. Stallworth to ‘calm down’ and to ‘stop intimidating’ Magee.”

By using “the color of their skin as ‘evidence’” of such alleged theft, Stallworth and Dickerson allege that Magee – who was fired by Nike after “after the incident,” prompting her to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Beaverton, Oregon-based giant – engaged in “racially-motivated discrimination.” More than that, they claim that by “refusing to provide equal access to Nike’s products and services on account of [their] race by following, harassing, defaming, accosting, assaulting, and accusing them of stealing a duly purchased basketball,” Magee “deprived [them] of the rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.” 

Particularly problematic, according to Stallworth and Dickerson, is that “for at least two years prior to this incident, Nike was repeatedly made aware of Magee’s racist and degrading behavior toward employees and customers.” They claim that Magee has a history of “using racial code language … to refer to Black customers whom she wanted her employees to follow around the store” and discriminating against Black employees. Nonetheless, “Nike praised Magee [and] … her ‘loss prevention’ efforts … instead of believing its Black employees.”

Still yet, they assert that “the indelible trauma brought upon [them] resulted directly from Nike’s failure to adequately train, supervise, and discipline its employees, favoritism in Nike’s ranks, Nike’s fraudulent ‘anonymous’ employee reporting system, Magee’s decision to follow her own racial biases, and the Santa Monica Police Department’s failure to exercise independent judgment when confronted with the bogus and racist allegations of Nike’s out-of-control employee.”

With the incident at hand in mind, Stallworth and Dickerson argue that “Nike’s clever marketing, [which is] intended to profit from Black America’s desire for equal treatment can only go so far to  cover up the reality that is Nike’s problematic culture” that ranges from “its all-white executive leadership … to Nike’s failure to address [this] particular [store] manager’s history of racist behavior.” They continue on to assert that “the trauma that Nike has brought upon [them] and Nike’s total lack of remorse for the same make clear that Nike’s image is nothing more than a marketing ploy to access the wealth of the Black community.” 

With the foregoing in mind, Stallworth and Dickerson – who are seeking “compensatory, general, and special damages” in an amount to be determined at trial – set forth 10 causes of action, including claims of unlawful detention and false arrest, imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision and retention, as well as violations of California’s Unruh Act, which outlaws discrimination, including on the basis of race, and the Ralph Act, a state discrimination-centric statute.

In addition to naming Magee as a defendant, Nike Retail Services, Inc. is also listed since the sportswear giant “bears full responsibility” – and is vicariously liable – “for the horrifying and deeply embarrassing ordeal it put this family through,” Stallworth and Dickerson assert, as “Magee’s conduct occurred within the scope of and during the regular course of her employment at Nike, as she was acting as an employee attempting to recover a duly purchased basketball on behalf of Nike.” 

A rep for Nike was not immediately available for comment.

*The case is Joel Stallworth, Tamiya Dickerson, et al., v. Nike Retail Services, Inc., Wendy Magee, et al., 2:20-cv-05985 (C.D. Cal.).