Apple Accused of Retaliation After Workers Spoke Out on Pay, Harassment

Apple Accused of Retaliation After Workers Spoke Out on Pay, Harassment
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on-stage during a product launch event at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, on September 10, 2019. (Photo: Josh Edelson, Getty Images)

The U.S. National Labour Relations Board is investigating charges from two Apple employees alleging coercion and retaliation in the workplace after workers spoke openly about workplace conditions, such as pay equity and sexual harassment.

Documents released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act this month in one case describe a series of reprisals against an engineer, Ashley Gjovik, who identified herself in the press. Gjovik said the company had placed her on administrative leave, reassigned her position, and reduced the scope of her responsibilities in violation of employee rights after she’d been vocal about issues at the company.

The retaliation, Gjovik said, was meant to discourage others from speaking out.

The labour board investigates all claims and determines which merit prosecution.

Gjovik further accused the company of ignoring harassment by a manager and subjecting her to hostile and unsafe work conditions. The charges also say she was identified without her consent to a person anonymously reported for sexual harassment.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company told Reuters late Thursday it investigates all concerns raised by employees. The company reportedly declined to comment on any specific allegations citing “respect for the privacy of any individuals involved.”

Cher Scarlett, an Apple engineer, told Bloomberg she had filed the second complaint.

Scarlett told reporters she had attempted to start a workplace Slack channel dedicated to discussing pay equity issues but had been rebuffed by the company, which said the topic wasn’t work-related. Scarlett said another channel had been approved and was dedicated to the game foosball.

Speaking with Gizmodo last month, Scarlett said Apple had repeatedly stifled employee efforts to conduct a pay transparency survey, as first reported by the Verge in August. Gizmodo confirmed last month as many as 2,300 Apple employees had taken the survey; however, it wasn’t enough to provide a clear company-wide picture.

The complaints follow a rare burst of activism within Apple by, so far, a small number of workers. The workers organised under the hashtag #AppleToo last month with the stated aim of exposing “persistent patterns of racism, sexism, inequity, discrimination, intimidation, suppression, coercion, abuse, unfair punishment, and unchecked privilege.”

“For too long,” they said, “Apple has evaded public scrutiny.”