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

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on-stage during a product launch event at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, on September 10, 2019.

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

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act this month in one case describe a series of reprisals against a senior engineering program manager, 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 labor board investigates all claims and says it prosecutes whenever a case has merit.

In a phone interview, Gjovik said Apple had meant to silence her. She remains on paid leave, but said not by her own choice. “I spent so much time making really good products, I want to do really good work,” she said. “I believe in the brand, but I’m having big issues right now with the company.”

Gjovik has also accused Apple of ignoring harassment by a manager, and of subjecting her to hostile and unsafe conditions. She also claims to have been identified without consent to a person who was anonymously reported for sexual harassment.

“I appreciate that Apple likes to post about human rights and social responsibility, but its actions don’t align with the words,” she said.

Gjovik said she’s been bombarded with questions from journalists, adding she expects the publicity may have already damaged her career. “At this point, I already feel like I’m screwed,” she said. Gjovik said she intends to continue speaking out, nonetheless. She wants others to know they can, she said, and wants Apple to do better.

“It’s the biggest company in the world,” Gjovik added. “A role model for other companies globally.”

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 organized 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.”

Update, 11pm: Added remarks from Ashley Gjovik.





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