Former Under Armour executive sues company and his manager for racial discrimination

A former Under Armour executive has filed a racial discrimination and defamation lawsuit against the Baltimore-based athletic apparel company and his manager, alleging his boss disparaged him and treated him unfairly compared to his white counterparts.

Leon Duncan said in the lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, that Under Armour and his former manager treated him differently because he was black.


Duncan worked at Under Armour for 10 years and was a marketing executive. His attorney, Tonya Bana, filed the claims in court July 19 — nearly one year after he was fired. He is seeking $75,000 in damages.

“Mr. Duncan’s character and reputation were harmed, his standing and reputation in the community were impaired, and he suffered mental anguish and personal humiliation,” the lawsuit said.


The suit claims that Mark Cavanaugh, Duncan’s boss, took away an important account, made several false, defamatory statements about Duncan taking time off, and scrutinized his expenses — all to intentionally hurt his career. Duncan’s white counterparts never experienced such treatment, the lawsuit said.

Under Armour declined to discuss the case through a spokesperson, saying the company doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. Cavanaugh, an Under Armour senior vice president and group general manager - sports division, could not be reached for comment.

“Under Armour takes all allegations of discrimination seriously, however, the brand does not comment on ongoing litigation,” a company spokesman wrote in an email. “Additionally, per company policy and related privacy issues, we also do not provide commentary on individual teammates.”

Duncan was fired in July 2018 for violating the company’s expense policies and insubordination, the lawsuit said. He was not offered a severance package, like other “longstanding” white employees who also were terminated, according to the lawsuit.

Duncan admits to not submitting the expenses on time but said that “the expenses were otherwise legitimate.” The lawsuit said white employees who had “comparable or more serious” performance issues were not fired and in several cases weren’t disciplined.

The former marketing executive was fired less than a year after he began reporting to Cavanaugh, who the suit said had a reputation for treating black employees more harshly than white employees. At least one other black employee filed a complaint with human resources about the manager, the lawsuit said.

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Court documents said almost immediately after Duncan began working under Cavanaugh, the company’s golf brand was taken away from him after he had been working on it for eight years.

Cavanaugh also allegedly made “disparaging comments” to a junior staff member about Duncan, calling him “Captain PTO” — paid time off — whenever he took a vacation day. The suit said he never did that to white employees.


Before Duncan was fired, he had raised concerns about how his manager was treating him, the lawsuit said. At one point, Duncan sought help from Kevin Eskridge, Under Armour’s chief product officer and Cavanaugh’s manger, about the hostile relationship. The suit said Eskridge urged Duncan to not go to human resources but to work it out directly with Cavanaugh.

Eskridge could not be reached for comment.

Several days and weeks after Duncan was fired, the lawsuit said, he learned that Cavanaugh made several statements to people inside and outside the company that led them to believe he was terminated for “egregious, potentially criminal, misconduct.”

The lawsuit said Cavanaugh told others Duncan not receiving any severance had “nothing to do with performance.” It also said that he told someone outside the company he was “terminated for giving away product without authorization.” That person then believed Duncan was fired for stealing from the company, the lawsuit said.

An earlier version of this story misstated Duncan’s title. The Sun regrets the error.