Another Apple Worker Says the Company Retaliated Against Her

One of the leaders of an activist movement at Apple took her complaint to a federal agency, marking an escalation of a conflict between Apple and some of its workers.,


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Apple and its activist employees have edged toward open confrontation in recent months, as workers have gone public with criticisms of how the company treats them and have prodded federal agencies to investigate.

On Tuesday, that conflict escalated as one of the leaders of an activist movement at the company, who said she had been fired in October, said in a charge to the National Labor Relations Board that Apple had retaliated against her.

Janneke Parrish, a former Apple Maps program manager, accused Apple and Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, of violating federal labor law by firing her in retaliation for forming the employee group, known as #AppleToo.

Ms. Parrish’s complaint, in a legal filing with the N.L.R.B., is the latest in a series made by Apple employees. One former Apple employee, Ashley Gjovik, has made at least 10 complaints to state and federal agencies claiming misconduct by her former employer. Cher Scarlett, another leader of #AppleToo, has been on leave and has been talking to federal regulators about whether Apple prohibits its workers from speaking out.


Janneke Parrish, a former Apple employee, said she was fired by the company in response to her workplace activism.Credit…Robert Howell

The confrontation with employees has been a surprising turn at Apple, which has long had a reputation for a buttoned-up, top-down culture. While other big tech companies like Google have long dealt with worker unrest, Apple had until recently largely avoided such conflicts.

A common theme among the Apple workers’ complaints is that the company’s secrecy and aggressive efforts to avoid leaks about new products have permeated the rest of its corporate culture, causing a chilling effect that discourages people from talking about wages, discrimination and workplace harassment.

Now the workers who have spoken out say they have been punished for it. Ms. Parrish said in her complaint to the N.L.R.B. that Apple had fired her to “nip in the bud” her organizing efforts.

“I do believe that Apple retaliated against me for speaking out,” Ms. Parrish said in an interview. She said she wanted to make clear to Apple “that retaliating against workers for speaking out at what they see as injustice is not an acceptable response.”

Apple has disputed the charges made by the employees.

Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s human resources chief, told employees in a September meeting viewed by The New York Times that the company tracks pay and closes wage disparities whenever they are found. And Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, framed the conversation as a battle over rooting out people who leak company information.

“As you know, we do not tolerate disclosures of confidential information, whether it’s product I.P. or the details of a confidential meeting,” Mr. Cook wrote in a September memo to employees that was viewed by The Times and was reported earlier by The Verge. “We know that the leakers constitute a small number of people. We also know that people who leak confidential information do not belong here.”

An Apple spokesman on Tuesday reiterated a previous comment the company had shared about employee activism, saying that Apple was “deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace” and investigating concerns. The company said it did not comment on specific employees.

Apple has in the past faced isolated cases of worker discontent. Last year, Kate Rotondo, a former software engineer, filed and later retracted a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming gender discrimination and unequal pay.

Barbara Dawn Underwood, an Apple retail store employee in Georgia, sued Apple for $1.7 million, accusing the company of failing to stop a co-worker from sexually harassing and assaulting her and then retaliating by firing her while she was trying to return to work after taking leave. Apple has asked for the case, filed in a Georgia federal court, to be dismissed, and Ms. Underwood is waiting to see if she can proceed.

Recently, the complaints have escalated into #AppleToo. Led by Ms. Parrish and Ms. Scarlett, a security engineer, the movement grew from a group of employees arguing this summer against returning to physical office spaces into a broader referendum on Apple’s culture. Ms. Parrish, before she was fired in October, collected more than 500 stories from people who said they were current or former Apple employees, describing verbal abuse, sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination at work.


Cher Scarlett, another activist employe, said workers have become nervous about sharing their workplace concerns.Credit…Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Ms. Parrish said Apple told her she had been fired for deleting files from her company computer and phone before handing them over to be examined while the company investigated whether she had leaked the recording of an Apple meeting to media outlets.

With Ms. Parrish gone, Ms. Scarlett, who returned to work Tuesday, has continued to send employees to media outlets and labor agencies, but she said some have been scared off. “There’s something muted about it now,” she said. “People don’t want to be targeted by executives for retaliatory investigations when they’ve done nothing wrong.”

For some Apple workers, Ms. Gjovik, an outspoken former employee, has been a rallying point. Ms. Gjovik, who was a senior engineering program manager, began speaking out in March about concerns that an Apple office in Sunnyvale, Calif., was built on or near a Superfund site and was being tested in relation to concerns about the site.

She eventually escalated concerns to a company environmental health team, complained to the Environmental Protection Agency and later went public to news organizations and on social media after being told not to speak with other Apple employees. She said she was placed on leave in August and fired in September for leaking confidential information, which she disputes.

Ms. Gjovik has since complained to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the N.L.R.B. and the California Department of Industrial Relations, which told her in late October that it would assign her case to an investigator.

Matthew Bodie, a law professor and former field attorney at the N.L.R.B., said the labor board would likely look at how realistic it was that Apple was motivated to fire an employee because it was worried about trade secrets.

“A company is certainly free to say, ‘We’re having a confidential meeting about a new product development and we don’t want it leaked out,'” Mr. Bodie said. “But butting up against that is this idea that employees should be free to talk to one another about what’s going on at the company.”

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