Lawsuit against Apple alleges that employees are treated “as animals” and common thieves

Tim Cook

At a company where product releases are seemingly guarded more closely than state secrets, Apple’s privacy and security policies are predictably stringent. But according to a few disgruntled employees, Tim Cook has gone a bit too far with insisting that workers’ bags be checked before leaving store premises to ensure that no iGadgets have been stolen.

In a lawsuit that went public on Wednesday, at least two Apple employees are demanding that the tech giant pay workers for the time it takes for security to rifle through their bags to ensure they are not committing (not so petty) theft. In the lawsuit, one workers claims that employers “are required to treat ‘valued’ employees as criminals.”

According to plaintiffs Amanda Friekin and Dean Pelle, employees belongings are carefully checked every time Apple workers leave store premises, even when they are simply leaving to take lunch. Worse yet, the plaintiffs allege, these “demeaning” searches are often performed by security in full sight of customers, often creating a scene for consumers to “gawk” at. A 2012 email addressed to CEO Tim Cook titled “Fearless feedback from Apple retail specialist” noted that managers displayed an alarming lack of trust in their direct reports, and in 2013, an employee in a Beijing branch of Apple sent an email claiming that workers were treated “as animals” and common criminals.

According to the lawsuit, Cook forwarded these emailed allegations to senior executives at the company, asking, “Is this true?” But his response to the employees’ emails and the managers’ responses to Cook were not revealed by the courts.

One publicized reaction came from Denise Young Smith, a human resources chief at Apple, who wrote to colleague Carol Monkowski, the strategy head: “I don’t like that practice either, but I do understand why they believe it’s necessary. I’d like to explore other options, i.e, random checks like TSA. If it is simply a deterrent, there has to be a more intelligent and respectful way to approach.”

The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, claims $1,500 a year per employee in unpaid wages resulting from the time spent every day checking bags, a policy that still seems to stand in effect today. With the company’s stringent policies, employees claim Apple’s practices “invoke fear into the class members that if they so much as discuss the various labor policies, they run the risk of being fired, sued or disciplined.” A hearing is scheduled for July 2, when a court will determine the validity of these complaints and decide just how suspicious Apple can legally be of its employees before paying a hefty price.