Apple has worked to silence employees speaking out against workplace harassment, according to a new report by Matt Drange at Business Insider. Former Apple engineer Cher Scarlett was subject to “harassment from colleagues and intimidation from the company,” after working for months to improve pay equity. When she chose to leave Apple, a strict nondisclosure and nondisparagement clause was foisted on her, which she considered “ridiculous.”
On Oct. 25, Scarlett filed a whistleblower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after Apple was prompted by shareholder concern to make a statement to the SEC that they do not use nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) “in the context of harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful acts.” Scarlett shared a copy of the Apple settlement agreement with the SEC, and shared the NDA with Nia Impact Capital, the activist investor that first proposed Apple assess the risk in using NDAs in such a fashion. Nia Impact Capital is an investment firm which defines itself on its front page as investing “at the intersection of social justice and environmental sustainability.”
Scarlett has accepted that, by giving the documents to the SEC to let them know that Apple’s “SEC filing was a lie,” she has voided severance payments. As she put it, “The money that would come out in a year isn’t worth [Apple] not being held accountable now.”
Nia Impact CEO Kristin Hull said that Scarlett’s documents reveal that attempts to keep ex-Apple employees quiet are “absolutely happening,” in line with Business Insider’s reporting earlier this year on the prevalence of NDA usage across Silicon Valley, often having nothing to do with trade secrets. This in turn prompted the creation of a movement by tech industry workers to reject the superfluous NDA culture, exemplified in the website Can’t Buy My Silence, which features blogs, podcasts, and articles that serve as guides/FAQs, as well as more than 30 intense testimonials.
Today’s news about Cher Scarlett’s whistleblowing comes just days after Apple posted an internal memo stating that workers have the right to speak publicly about work conditions and compensation. In August, 15 employees launched “Apple Too,” a website describing a company that fosters a “culture of secrecy [that] creates an opaque, intimidating fortress.” The website reads:
For too long, Apple has evaded public scrutiny. The truth is that for many Apple workers—a reality faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender, and historically marginalized groups of people—the culture of secrecy creates an opaque, intimidating fortress. When we press for accountability and redress to the persistent injustices we witness or experience in our workplace, we are faced with a pattern of isolation, degradation, and gaslighting.
No more. We’ve exhausted all internal avenues. We’ve talked with our leadership. We’ve gone to the People team. We’ve escalated through Business Conduct. Nothing has changed.It’s time to Think Different.A group of Apple workers have joined together to organize and protect ourselves. We are asking fellow Apple workers who want to see real change at Apple to share their stories. When our stories are collected and presented together, they help expose persistent patterns of racism, sexism, inequity, discrimination, intimidation, suppression, coercion, abuse, unfair punishment, and unchecked privilege.We must work together, as colleagues—Corporate, AppleCare, and Retail; salaried and hourly; part-time and full-time—to demand systemic change in our work place. We all share a spot in Directory, and yet, we don’t share the same treatment, and aren’t all given equal rights.Connect with us to share your own experience, stay informed, or unite in solidarity with other current or former Apple workers. United, we can collaborate to iterate a healthier workplace.We are working together to craft a statement on our behalf, reflecting our stories and an outline of changes we expect to see Apple make. Follow along on Twitter.
Labor activists in the tech industry have recently pushed for the Silenced No More Act, a California law advocated by former Google, Facebook, and Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma, who co-sponsored it alongside the California Employment Lawyers Association, Earthseed, and gender justice/women’s rights nonprofit Equal Rights Advocates. The law, written by California State Senator Connie Leyva as an expansion of her previous Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures (STAND) Act, signed in October by Gavin Newsome and taking effect in California next year, will protect employees that speak out against discrimination.
Scarlett wanted the following language from the Silenced No More Act included in her separation agreement, but Apple’s lawyers wouldn’t allow it:
Nothing in this agreement prevents you from discussing or disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace, such as harassment or discrimination or any other conduct that you have reason to believe is unlawful.
So, even though Apple claims to let employees speak out about pay and work conditions, they won’t put that into a contract. It goes into a memo once investors raise concerns about legal liability, and then former employees get cut off from severance payments after revealing the memo was a lie.