Apple faces investigation into whether it retaliated against whistleblowers

The US Department of Labor is investigating Apple about claims it retaliated against an employee who complained about workplace harassment and unsafe working conditions.

Ashley Gjovik, 35, had been a senior engineering program manager for six years at Apple when she was fired in September for allegedly leaking confidential information by tweeting about allegations of harassment , supervision and safety issues in the workplace. Gjovik alleges that she was fired for false reasons after numerous complaints led to more than a dozen cases of retaliation including job reassignment.

The labor ministry declined to comment but confirmed its investigation in a letter to Gjovik published December 10 by the Financial Times.

Stephen Kohn, an employment attorney and an expert on Denunciation of the United States law, says the burden of proof required for the agency to open an investigation is high, as the employee must have established sufficient evidence that, unless dismissed, will prove the case.

He said the case will be closely watched as it is rare for a labor dispute with Big Tech to “enter the public domain”. The DoL rarely investigates such cases, he added, because of the extensive use of non-disclosure agreements to “silence and intimidate whistleblowers”.

Apple declined to discuss specific employee issues out of respect for privacy, but said: “We have been and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. import. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised.”

Mary Inman, head of international whistleblowing at law firm Constantine Cannon, described the case as “a breath of fresh air” as Joe Biden’s administration signaled a more aggressive stance to force firms to explanation.

Last month, the top lawyer of the labor ministry announced a new initiative cooperate with other civil law enforcement agencies to protect workers from discrimination and misconduct.

For Apple, the investigation could mark the most significant setback in a series of labor disputes this year, including a shareholder proposal request more information about the company’s use of nondisclosure agreements. The proposal accuses the iPhone maker of extending its culture of secrecy to work areas protected by federal and state law.

Gjovik’s initial complaints stem from mid-March when she cited concerns about “chemical exposure” at her Apple office in Sunnyvale, California. The facility is located on a site known as the Superfund, which requires special supervision because it has previously been contaminated with hazardous waste below the building.

When Apple sent an email about wanting to test the site for “vapor intrusion,” Gjovik’s questions about it were rejected by Apple’s employee relations department, and “they threatened me not to talk about my concerns.” about my safety,” she alleged.

The DoL will look into whether Apple retaliated over claims of hazardous waste management and occupational safety, along with a third allegation under the Sarbanes Oxley Act, or Sox, setting regulations financial record keeping rules.

Gjovik pointed to a potential conflict of interest involving Apple board member Ronald Sugar, chairman of the audit committee, as he was previously the chief executive officer of Northrop Grumman, the defense company responsible for the dump – and maintain – waste materials underneath the Sunnyvale office.

Sugar could not be immediately reached for comment.

Michael Duff, a former attorney at the National Relations Labor Board, said Gjovik’s case was “particularly unusual” and notable because three separate statutes or laws could have been broken.

“Federal agencies do what in the criminal law context is called prosecutorial agency,” he said. “They’re very careful about the circumstances under which they come forward because they have scarce resources, so they have to have solid reasons to believe they can prevail.”

Other prominent labor department investigations include allegations that Google had a “systemic” problem in underpaying female employees. The case was resolved this year with the search giant agree to pay 3.8 million dollars. Palantir, an analytics company, 2017 paid $1.6 million DoL to settle allegations that it discriminated against Asian applicants when hiring new engineers.

Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who specializes in representing Amazon employees who allege unfair labor practices, said Gjovik’s actions reflect her generation’s desire for companies to live up to the values ​​they uphold. Fort. “It’s a huge shift in the fact that people are standing up for what’s right,” he said.

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