Adidas and Kanye West

by Madison Fiedler-Carlson

If you’ve been checking the news recently, you probably saw some pretty juicy allegations about Kanye West’s behavior at Adidas.  Rolling Stone reported that (among other incidents):

  • West told a female Adidas employee, “I want you to make me a shoe I can fuck;”
  • West showed Adidas employees pornographic images and videos, including homemade sex tapes of him engaging in sexual acts with Kim Kardashian and other women;
  • West showed Adidas employees nude, sexual photos of Kardashian;
  • West wanted Adidas employees to feel “extreme discomfort” when he showed them pornography;
  • West played “mind games” with Adidas employees, including making a young female designer of color sit on the floor for hours during a meeting, telling her, “You don’t deserve a seat at the table;”
  • West created a “‘disturbingly’ sexualized atmosphere” among female Adidas employees;
  • During job interviews, West purposely made female applicants uncomfortable to see if they would push back and told them that he “literally” wanted to “fuck [his] shoes;”
  • West began barring Adidas executives from meetings (which resulted in employees taking notes and sharing them with Adidas executives) as a way to control Adidas staff; and
  • West scolded female employees about their appearance, telling female employees to cut their hair, lose weight, or say things like, “You fat slut.”

We see sexual harassment cases like this all the time, unfortunately.  This kind of case is a “hostile work environment” case.  To succeed in court, Adidas employees would need to show that (1) the harassment was because of gender, and (2) the harassment was either severe or pervasive–meaning, it’s either really bad or it happened frequently.

Was West’s Harassment Because of Gender?

Showing porn in the workplace isn’t necessarily gender-specific, but you need to look at the whole picture.  West wasn’t just showing videos of men in sexual scenarios; he focused on the women in the porn videos and pictures.  He also showed sexual videos and pictures of his wife.  He also focused on making women uncomfortable in the workplace, even though the harassment was also done in front of men (and likely/hopefully made men in the workplace uncomfortable).  West also fixated on female employees’ appearance and called them sexually-derogatory words.

Was West’s Harassment Severe or Pervasive?

Definitely.  Even though you don’t need to prove both, West’s behavior in the Adidas workplace was objectively terrible and happened frequently.

Does it matter that West was a client/partner of Adidas?

Not really.  Most courts agree that employers have a duty to protect their employers from customers who harass them.

What should Adidas have done?

If Rolling Stone is right, Adidas definitely knew about the harassment:

  • Adidas executives knew about much of West’s behavior, warning employees that West may show them porn and that it might “catch people off guard;”
  • A female Adidas employee was moved off the team after she complained to Human Resources about West yelling at her so loudly over the phone that other employees could hear him; and
  • Because West was a money-maker for Adidas, Adidas brushed his behavior under the rug or excused it as West being a “creative type.”

The minute Adidas heard about any of these allegations, it should have immediately taken steps to try and stop West’s behavior.  Adidas has a legal duty to its employees to provide them with a safe working environment.  Pushing West’s behavior under the rug is the last thing this employer should have done.  What else could Adidas have done?

  • Given West verbal warnings that his behavior was inappropriate;
  • Given West written warnings that his behavior was inappropriate;
  • Insisted that Adidas management or Human Resources be in meetings with West to supervise him and his behavior;
  • Threaten to cancel its contract with him (if the contract has provisions for inappropriate behavior or legal violations, which it should) and actually cancel it if the behavior continued;
  • Make West attend training on sexual harassment; or
  • Insisted West apologize for his behavior.

This is just a quick list of ideas.  I’m sure there are many, many more that could have prevented this environment at Adidas or even just improved the environment once it had started.

Harassment of any kind can be stopped or prevented if brave people speak up.  But it also requires employers to pay attention and take action.  When employers close their eyes and ears to what’s going on around them, they fail their employees.

People can, for the most part, act however they want in their private lives.  West is free to watch what he wants in his private time and people who want to engage with him and his behavior in their free time can do so.  But he is not free to subject employees to that behavior.  Employees at Adidas who had to put up with seeing porn, hearing women degraded, and experience power plays won’t be the same as they were before West.  And as much as it was West’s responsibility to not engage in that behavior in the first place, it was also Adidas’ responsibility to stop it.


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