In 2000, Jeffrey Paich was hired to manage the Nike Factory Store in Mercer. A year later, Debra Sweda became Paich’s supervisor.

Over the next four years, Sweda was inundated with complaints about Paich’s temper and his treatment of women. Employees claimed that Paich discussed sex and sexual dreams with employees and once called a female job applicant “yummy in the tummy.”

Employees also said Paich often went jogging instead of helping in the store, sometimes hid behind fixtures and spied on workers, and once laid down on a counter while employees stocked shelves during a power outage.

So for years, Sweda issued warnings following various complaints. In October 2005, Paich complained of gender discrimination, saying Sweda listened more to women’s complaints than men’s. Seven days later, Sweda fired him and replaced him with one of the female employees who had complained about him.

Paich sued, alleging sex discrimination. He lost on his discrimination claims because the court found that Nike had ample nondiscriminatory reasons for disciplining, and even terminating, Paich.

But on retaliation, the court ruled in Paich’s favor, saying there was enough evidence to send the case to trial. The court first noted the timing: Paich was fired within a week of his discrimination complaint, despite a “long history of poor reviews.” Second, the court noted that Sweda sometimes wrote favorably of Paich’s performance during the same period, and she could not say specifically why she chose that day to terminate him. A jury now will get the case.

Note: Having too long a history of documented performance problems can work against you. In this case, Nike had so many reasons for firing Paich that the court was forced to ask, “Why now?”

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