The Financial Times has published a lengthy report saying that Apple has fostered a culture of apathy toward reports of employee misconduct, and has actively retaliated against staff members who complained about colleagues, including those who reported incidents of sexual assault. If accurate, the allegations are at odds with the image of inclusiveness that Apple projects, and cast a pall on the real progress it has made in boosting its workforce diversity.
Multiple women described filing complaints with Apple’s human resources department over sexual abuse, bullying and other incidents. Former employee Megan Mohr complained that a colleague removed her bra and clothes while she was asleep and took photos of her after a platonic night out. However, the HR representative called the experience “a minor traffic accident.”
“Although what he did was reprehensible as a person and potentially criminal, as an Apple employee he hasn’t violated any policy in the context of his Apple work,” Apple’s HR department said in an email seen by FT. “And because he hasn’t violated any policy we will not prevent him seeking employment opportunities that are aligned with his goals and interests.”
An Apple Store Genius employee complained about two instances of serious sexual assault including being raped, and said HR treated her not as a victim, but as the problem. “I was told [the alleged rapist] went on a ‘career experience’ for six months and they said: ‘maybe you’ll be better by the time he’s back?” She requested a transfer but it was declined, and she still works at the same store.
IP attorney Margaret Anderson complained of a “toxic work environment” and “gaslighting,” and said a male vice-president wanted to fire her, citing false allegations that predated her arrival at Apple. HR reportedly ignored a document she created refuting the allegations.
Employees have also complained about Apple suppressing worker organizing and blocking Slack channels used by employees to complain about bad managers and pay inequity. Software engineer Cher Scarlett said Apple retaliated after she filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The company offered her a $213,000 severance package, but she refused to sign it because Apple demanded she hand over a letter sent to the NLRB that included the names of other employees.
That’s their playbook. Offer me enough money to pay off my lawyers and debt, and they wanted a list of people to retaliate against. How do I talk about how egregious that truly is?
She accepted the deal when Apple withdrew the demand, but was forced to pull the NLRB complaint. However, she intentionally broke the agreement when Apple sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) saying it “supports the rights of its employees and contractors to speak freely.” Scarlett then showed her exit arrangement to the media, which led to eight US state treasurers asking the SEC to investigate “whether or not Apple misled the Commission and investors.”
The highest profile complaint was from Jayne Whitt, a director in Apple’s legal department. She told HR that a colleague hacked her devices and threatened her life, with the expectation that the complaint would be handled seriously. Instead, the employee investigative division said Whitt “failed to act in a professional and work appropriate manner” during their meeting, at a time when Whitt “said she was begging for help and reliving trauma,” the FT wrote.
She subsequently posted a 2,800 word essay on the whistleblower platform The Lioness describing the situation, prompting an outpouring of support from Apple employees. However, Apple proceeded to fire her based on what she called an “irrelevant” six-year-old indiscretion.
Whitt is now challenging Apple legally, and said the Slack channels on gender-pay disparity helped open her eyes. “I was disadvantaged — this is how women struggle,” she said. “Had these stories [on Slack] not been coming out, I would not have been compelled to do the right thing, to blow up my career.”
Apple told The Financial Times in a statement that it works hard to thoroughly investigate misconduct allegations and strives to create “an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting any issues.” However, it acknowledged not having always met those ideals. “There are some accounts raised that do not reflect our intentions or our policies and we should have handled them differently, including certain exchanges reported in this story. As a result, we will make changes to our training and processes.” It wouldn’t comment on specific cases “out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved.”