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Nike takes false-advertising case to Supreme Court

By The Associated Press


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PORTLAND, Ore. — Nike Inc. has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a free-speech case arising from its advertising campaign to defend working conditions at overseas plants.

The Beaverton-based company, the world's largest athletic shoemaker, filed the appeal yesterday.

Nike is asking for review of a 4-3 ruling by the California Supreme Court in May that an activist can sue Nike for allegedly violating false-advertising laws during a 1996-97 campaign to inform the public about its labor policies. Nike sent letters to the editors of major newspapers, among other things.

The suit claims Nike deceived consumers by falsely stating it guarantees a "living wage" to all workers, and that its workers in Southeast Asia make twice the local minimum wage and are protected from corporal punishment.

Nike says it is taking part in constitutionally protected political debate about worker rights and the global economy.

"Uttering even a word would become far more risky than simply keeping silent, if this ruling stands," said Laurence Tribe, Nike's lead attorney.

The company said yesterday it would not release its annual corporate responsibility report unless a court first wipes out the threat of a suit and big monetary award.

The report discusses the company's labor and environmental policies around the world.

The California Supreme Court ruled Nike's campaign constitutes commercial speech and is subject to California consumer-protection laws that are among the least friendly to business in the country.

The court fight has not yet determined whether Nike made false statements, focusing instead on whether the suit can go forward. San Francisco resident Marc Kasky filed the lawsuit, which had been dismissed by a trial court and a state appeals court before going to the California Supreme Court.

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether to hear the case, Nike v. Kasky, is expected in December or January.


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