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Will Apple agree to an independent audit of its work practices?

On Behalf of | May 2, 2022 | Employment Law

Apple Inc. has long aspired to be a champion for civil rights, but critics say the technology giant fails to maintain an adequately diverse workforce, particularly in higher paid, higher-power positions. Some critics point to repeated reports of discriminatory practices, sexual harassment and other abuses at the company. Apple boasts that it has made great strides. Who’s right?

Apple shareholders recently passed a non-binding resolution urging Apple to engage a third-party auditor to assess its treatment of minorities and women in the U.S. and abroad. The board strongly opposed this resolution, arguing that Apple has already taken multiple, important steps to address the perceived problem, including:

  • A $130-million commitment to a racial justice and equity fund after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020
  • Hiring more minority and female applicants
  • Increasing the pay of minority and female employees
  • Achieving gender pay equity every year since 2017
  • Achieving racial pay equity in the United States
  • During the past year, hiring 59% of leaders from underrepresented communities

“I have long believed that inclusion and diversity are essential in their own right,” said CEO Tim Cook in response to the resolution. “And that a diversity of people, experiences and ideas is the foundation for any new innovation.”

Like much of the high-tech industry, however, Apple has historically hired more white and Asian men than others, especially in leadership positions.

One top hire sparked outrage, but that’s not all

Last year, Apple made waves by hiring a former Facebook product manager to join its ad team. He was the author of a 2016 book called “Chaos Monkeys” that critics say contained racist and misogynistic comments. After a backlash, Apple cut ties with the man, but some believe the hire was a result of Apple’s overall lack of attention to the issues.

Critics also faulted Apple for its abrupt announcement last year that it planned to scan every iPhone for images of child abuse. Privacy advocates pointed out many potential issues with the plan and iPhone users were, on the whole, disapproving of the plan. Ultimately, Apple backed down.

Apple is the world’s most valuable company, currently worth almost $2.7 trillion. It employs some 154,000 people worldwide. As a result of the tremendous wealth Apple has created, shareholders have generally supported the company enthusiastically.

The resolution urging Apple to undergo a third-party audit represents unusual push-back by shareholders against their perception of Apple’s policies. However, since the resolution was non-binding, the board is not required to accept it.

Apple workers should watch carefully

Even if the board agrees to a public audit, the results may not be available for several years. The audit, if any, would primarily be to give the company insight into its own practices rather than to address any individual complaints of harassment or discrimination.

Apple employees who believe they have suffered from racial, gender-based or other discrimination should discuss their case with an experienced employment law attorney before taking any concrete steps.

Leigh Law Group represents employees in employment law matters throughout California.