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Apple fires #AppleToo leader as part of leak probe. She says it's retaliation

The Apple logo is displayed on a Mac Pro desktop computer, Friday, May 21, 2021, in New York.
Mark Lennihan
The Apple logo is displayed on a Mac Pro desktop computer, Friday, May 21, 2021, in New York.

Updated October 15, 2021 at 2:46 PM ET

Apple has fired a lead organizer of the #AppleToo movement, as the company investigates multiple employees suspected of leaking internal documents to the media.

Janneke Parrish, a program manager who had been with the company for more than five years, told NPR that she was fired on Thursday. Apple claimed she had deleted files and apps from her company phone amid an investigation into how details of a company meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook leaked to the press, Parrish said.

"This is retaliation. I have been one of the most visible members of #AppleToo. I know the risk of doing that," she said. "I see a consistent pattern when each of the members of #AppleToo are subjected to investigations or Apple leadership approaches them. There has been a pattern established."

#AppleToo has been spearheaded by Parrish and another Apple employee, Cher Scarlett, who is still at Apple but on medical leave and would not comment to NPR. The effort gathered hundreds of anonymous accounts from Apple employees who highlighted alleged verbal abuse, sexual harassment, pay equity issues and other forms of workplace mistreatment.

"I was hoping to give a voice to those who have been ignored, gaslit or retaliated against for abuse in the workplace," Parrish told NPR. "They are stories that echoed across the company."

Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock said the company is committed to creating and maintaining an inclusive work environment.

"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," he told NPR.

But employees at Apple who support #AppleToo say, like Parrish, they see her ouster as a reprisal for workplace organizing.

"Retaliating against Janneke is not going to stop Apple workers from standing up for themselves," said one employee who requested anonymity for fear of being targeted by the company. "There are many workers who support #AppleToo who are trying to break the culture of secrecy at the company, and they aren't going to stop."

A small but growing chorus of Silicon Valley workers, from industry giants like Google to smaller companies like Glitch, Mapbox and Change.org, has been drawing attention to everything from the precarious arrangements of contract workers to workplace harassment and abuse.

At Apple, a company known for respectable pay and generous company perks, workers have long had deference for leadership and kept complaints within the confines of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company. But Parrish and others became fed up with what they saw as a lack of progress inside the company, so they began speaking out publicly and organizing colleagues around common causes.

"Every internal avenue was closed," Parrish said. "Leadership closed them all. When that happens, what other option do we have?"

Vince White, a lawyer for Parrish, says Apple likely violated the law by firing his client.

"We're looking at a number of different retaliation claims under a variety of different statutes," White said. "This is an act of retaliation that can very well lead to litigation."

News of the firing comes weeks after it was revealed that the National Labor Relations Board is investigating two charges against Apple.

One was filed by former senior engineering program manager Ashley Gjøvik, who claims that her manager at Apple harassed her and that the company gave her fewer responsibilities at work. In September, Apple fired Gjøvik for allegedly publicly sharing confidential company records.

The other charge was filed by Scarlett. She claimed Apple shut down her efforts to conduct companywide surveys of pay equity to shed light on what she says is a gender pay gap at the company. She said Apple even blocked her attempt to start a discussion on the workplace communication tool Slack about gender pay discrepancies.

The tech news website The Verge first reported on Parrish's firing.

Parrish said she has been overwhelmed with support from former colleagues at Apple, but she worries that her firing might have a chilling effect on other employees.

"This shows that there are consequences for standing up and saying, 'I disagree,' " she said.

On the other hand, she added, "I recognize how much this can galvanize people to do the right thing."

Editor's note: Apple is among NPR's financial supporters.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn
Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.