US labour board examines retaliation claims against Apple

Apple Inc updates

The US National Labor Relations Board is looking into allegations that Apple retaliated against a senior engineer who has accused the tech group of permitting a hostile work environment.

Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager who joined Apple in 2015, filed a “Charge against Employer” last week describing 13 instances of alleged retaliation including workplace harassment, job reassignment and reduction of supervisory responsibilities. Gjovik was placed on indefinite paid administrative leave a month ago while Apple investigated the matter.

The NLRB accepted the case on August 30, according to documents seen by the Financial Times.

Another Apple software engineer, Cher Scarlett, filed a complaint to the NLRB on September 1 on behalf of herself and other employees alleging the suppression of worker organising, specifically with regard to pay surveys and gender pay equity.

The action came after she built a tool that supported pay transparency at Apple, which resulted in wide-ranging criticism by other employees, both in support of and against her actions, which she documented on Twitter. Reuters first reported the news.

Gjovik, who told the FT that her tenure at Apple had been a “nonstop hostile work environment and bullying and retaliation”, has been prolific on social media in recent weeks in drawing attention to allegations of sexism and a hostile work environment at Apple.

Apple said in a statement: “We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters.”

Gjovik’s advocacy has played a role in the creation of #AppleToo, a movement of anonymous Apple employees on social media who have called for more accountability at the $2.5tn tech group long known for corporate secrecy. 

The advocacy group said on its website: “We’ve exhausted all internal avenues. We’ve talked with our leadership. We’ve gone to [Apple’s] people team . . . Nothing has changed.”

Gjovik’s specific complaints against Apple date back to mid-March, when she cited unsafe working conditions related to “chemical exposure” at her Apple office in Sunnyvale, California, where more than 100 employees are based.

Her office, known as “Stewart 1” within Apple, is located on what the Environmental Protection Agency refers to as the “TRW Microwave Superfund site”, a location requiring special oversight owing to previous contamination by hazardous waste materials in the soil and groundwater beneath the building.

In 2016, Apple paid $450,000 to settle state claims with the EPA that it mishandled hazardous electronic waste at facilities at their Cupertino headquarters and Sunnyvale.

Gjovik said her concerns were brushed aside and she was warned against speaking up about them. In her letter to the NLRB, she said Apple’s employee relations [department] “intimated me not to speak about my safety concerns”, that a manager advised she quit Apple and that she was subject to sexism and a “dramatically increased” workload.

Matters escalated when she took her complaints to Apple’s Slack channels, specifically a 2,000-member forum for female software engineers. She said she was flooded with supportive comments and similar stories of workplace harassment — but she had since been banned from using Slack as part of her administrative leave.

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