CUPERTINO, CA — One of the largest companies that champions various social justice issues has allegedly been caught trying to prevent activist employees from badmouthing it through the use of a nondisclosure agreement (NDA).
A former Apple Inc. employee turned whistleblower, Cher Scarlett, revealed that the company tried to censor resigning or fired employees by pressuring them to sign an NDA, according to a report by Business Insider.
When @Apple told the SEC last month that it didn't use NDAs to silence employees, researchers and employment lawyers were skeptical. But they didn't have proof that Apple was lying.— Matt Drange (@mattdrange) November 23, 2021
Now, former Apple engineer @cherthedev is breaking her NDA to change that:https://t.co/9jPiYPG5rT pic.twitter.com/fFGht2UC5a
In addition, the NDA allegedly contained a fabricated “employee” statement, which was actually written by Apple’s lawyers.
When Scarlett decided to leave the company earlier this month, Apple’s lawyers wanted her to sign a separation agreement.
Calling the NDA “ridiculous,” Scarlett claimed she was only allowed to state: “After 18 months at Apple, I’ve decided it is time to move on and pursue other opportunities.”
Scarlett has been a face of internal tension at Apple, where she pushed for greater transparency around pay and working conditions at the notoriously secretive company. Those efforts prompted harassment from colleagues, she says.— Matt Drange (@mattdrange) November 23, 2021
More by @ReedAlbergotti:https://t.co/ucOEhmoPgV
Scarlett refused to sign the NDA and told Business Insider:
“I was shocked. In my mind, I should be able to say whatever I want as long as I’m not defaming Apple.”
At Apple, Scarlett had worked as an engineer who spent months working to improve pay equity at the company.
Slate reported that she was known for her work with #AppleToo, an employee activist movement that seeks to collect and publicize concerns about pay equity, harassment, and other issues at the company.
The post-pandemic period has seen a surge in activism at companies ranging from Google to Facebook and Apple. https://t.co/Fnk7M5XsNL— Forbes Asia (@ForbesAsia) November 23, 2021
As a result of her efforts, she told Business Insider that she was harassed by colleagues and that the company attempted to intimidate her.
Scarlett told Slate why she left Apple:
“I didn’t feel like I could feasibly continue to work and also advocate for others publicly. I felt like there was no place for me there.”
Getting Apple to acknowledge this was Scarlett's biggest goal when she brought allegations to the NLRB. But when Apple denied using NDAs in cases like hers, Scarlett told me she was stunned.— Matt Drange (@mattdrange) November 23, 2021
"I wanted a way to be able to hold them accountable to that."https://t.co/9jPiYPG5rT
Scarlett revealed that the use of the NDA blatantly conflicted with recent statements Apple made to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
On page 2 of the letter emailed to the SEC, the company denied using “concealment clauses”:
“Apple is deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. Apple does not limit employees’ and contractors’ ability to speak freely about harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful acts in the workplace.
“Instead, Apple supports the rights of its employees and contractors to speak freely about these matters, and it is the Company’s policy that employees and contractors should not be prohibited from doing so.
“Given the foregoing, Apple has already substantially implemented the underlying concerns and essential objectives of the proposal – to disclose the risks of its use of concealment clauses – because the Company’s policy is to not use such clauses.
“Apple communicates this through its Business Conduct Policy, which is available on the Company’s public website for anyone, including shareholders, to review.
“Apple’s Business Conduct Policy sets out Apple’s expectations regarding confidentiality of unreleased products and non-public business information and provides that ‘nothing in this Policy should be interpreted as being restrictive of your right to speak freely about your wages, hours, or working conditions.’”
“… @cherthedev filed a complaint with the [NLRB] in September alleging that Apple “engaged in coercive and suppressive activity that has enabled abuse and harassment of organizers of protected concerted activity.”— Tracy King (@stack_tracy_) November 24, 2021
The height of bad bitch https://t.co/puD8cVcfMU
Yet Business Insider obtained a copy of Scarlett’s whistleblower complaint to the SEC and noted:
“In responding to a shareholder proposal for Apple to assess potential risk associated with using NDAs ‘in the context of harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful acts,’ Apple told the SEC that its ‘policy is to not use such clauses.’
“As a result, attorneys for Apple argued the company had already addressed the concerns of activist shareholders.
“Citing her own experience receiving NDAs from Apple, Scarlett filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC on October 25.
“The complaint, which Insider has reviewed, details what Scarlett says are ‘false statements or misleading statements’ by Apple to the agency.
“Scarlett included a copy of the settlement agreement Apple offered her in her SEC complaint, describing how the company included a ‘statement I was allowed to say about my leaving the company being a personal decision, rather than fleeing a hostile work environment after attempting to exercise my rights and help others organize’ under federal labor laws.”
Newly posted on Apple’s internal H.R. site — a message saying that company policies “do not restrict employees from speaking freely about their wages, hours or working conditions.”— Kellen Browning (@Kellen_Browning) November 20, 2021
It comes among employee unrest and the #AppleToo activism movement. pic.twitter.com/XiOawNQ5yc
Scarlett revealed she had shared a copy of the NDA that Apple wanted her to sign with Nia Impact Capital.
Upon seeing Apple’s NDA, Nia Impact Capital sought to force a shareholder vote around transparency on its use, according to the report:
“Nia informed the SEC that it had ‘received information, confidentially provided, that Apple has sought to use concealment clauses in the context of discrimination, harassment, and other workplace labor violation claims.’”
Scarlett explained her actions to Business Insider:
“I knew the SEC filing was a lie … I wanted a way to be able to hold them accountable to that.”
Nia CEO Kristin Hull said her company is seeking further review from the SEC on its shareholder proposal, including a review of arbitration cases at Apple and HR complaints:
“This mess with the SEC doesn’t make any sense.”
However, Hull told Business Insider that while her office has had cordial contact with Apple representatives in recent weeks over this issue, she said that Scarlett’s revelations show that efforts to silence former employees at the company are “absolutely happening.”
Apple did not respond to Business Insider’s requests for comment.
Apple Fires Another Employee Who Urged Workers to Speak Out https://t.co/UZhwMg4Eqe— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) October 15, 2021
Scarlett is not the only person who has made waves at Apple.
Slate reported that two other workplace activists at Apple are now gone:
“Scarlett was the last publicly known leader of the months-old movement still at Apple.
“While Scarlett left voluntarily, two other activist employees did not.
“Fellow #AppleToo leader Janneke Parrish, who worked on Apple Maps as a program manager, was fired in October, and former senior engineering program manager Ashley Gjøvik, an activist who was not part of #AppleToo, was fired in September.
“Both were terminated over the course of leak investigations.”
Apple will say this publicly and to employees but behind the scenes they will find a way to fire you. Apple is not a good faith company. https://t.co/YVBGR8qbby— Devin Nunes Mom (@NotDevinsMom) November 20, 2021
Parrish, who helped Scarlett to found the #AppleToo movement, alleged her termination was an act of retaliation for her activism and said she had also been subject to other forms of retaliation while still at the company. She told Slate:
“There was a degree of isolation where my management became more reluctant to give me assignments or to speak to me.
“It’s more subtle, but it’s very much still isolation and still has a chilling effect, saying that if you continue down this path, there are repercussions for your career here.”
Former Apple worker inspires Washington state measure seeking to curb NDAs Cher Scarlett, a former Apple employee and Washington state resident who has played a leading role in worker activism, said she reached out to Sen… #Global by #TheHindu https://t.co/ycyqQwWDYj— Market’s Cafe (@MarketsCafe) November 25, 2021
Parrish claimed that Human Resources had requested several meetings with her in which they collected more information about her organizing and tried to minimize the concerns that the #AppleToo movement was raising.
According to Slate, Apple’s investigators demanded that Parrish hand over her work devices, which she did, but not before deleting some personal data like contact information from political canvassing and her Robinhood investor app.
Slate’s report suggested that Apple found a way to fire her:
“(Apple reportedly encourages, and at times pretty much requires, employees to merge their personal accounts and activities with devices they use for work.) Apple accused Parrish of interfering with the investigation by deleting information, and fired her.”
Likewise, Gjøvik was fired from Apple in September. While she wasn’t associated with #AppleToo, she said her activism ran “in parallel” with the movement.
Slate reported Gjøvik, who worked at Apple for more than six years, began raising concerns internally about workplace safety and sexism at the company in March and eventually began speaking to the press.
Gjøvik told Slate she was singled out at work as a result of her advocacy:
“I heard from my old team that they were having staff meetings talking about the ‘Ashley issue.’”
Gjøvik also claimed that her managers were unreasonably short with her and had instructed her not to talk to co-workers about her concerns.
Slate reported that Apple once again seemingly found a convenient way to fire an employee:
“In early September, Gjøvik received an email from Apple requesting a meeting for an intellectual property investigation.
“She attempted to negotiate, stipulating that she would be willing as long as there was a written record of the discussion.
“Apple interpreted her request as a rejection of the meeting and subsequently fired her for failing to cooperate, without ever explicitly telling her what she was suspected of leaking.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook evokes activism following Parkland shooting, MeToo movement, telling students to be fearless at Duke University commencement: "Be fearless. Be the last people to accept things as they are, and the first people to stand up, and change them for the better." pic.twitter.com/43b85CcxvV— ABC News (@ABC) May 13, 2018
Apple spokesperson Josh Rosenstock told Slate:
“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.”
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