Tech employees account for the cost of speaking out, as tensions escalate within companies

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Tech employees account for the cost of speaking out, as tensions escalate within companies

“I was told that I was under investigation,” she said.

Shortly after, Apple reached a decision.

Parrish believes Apple targeted her because she had helped organize #AppleToo, a movement to share anonymous accounts of Apple workers who say they were mistreated for speaking out against harassment and unequal pay. Apple will not comment on the incident, other than saying it thoroughly investigates all company concerns.

“I was told that I was being terminated for having deleting apps and files off my devices prior to turning them into the company,” Parrish said.

Story Highlights

  • Former Apple program manager Janneke Parrish received some unwelcome news last month from her manager on the messaging app Slack.

  • Someone had leaked to the press details of a company meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook and an internal memo warning against leaking. Parrish denies any involvement, but Apple had its suspicions. It confiscated her phone and other devices, she said.

Standoffs are intensifying between major tech companies and employees who challenge how those companies wield their power. Late last year, Google fired a prominent Black researcher who questioned the company’s treatment of employees of color and women. Around the same time, the National Labor Relations Board said Google illegally fired two employees involved in labor organizing.

Recently, Facebook reportedly locked down its internal message boards after a former employee leaked damaging company research to the media. Netflix last week fired a transgender employee who had rallied colleagues against a Dave Chappelle special containing jokes at transgender people’s expense. The company said the employee had leaked data; the employee denies it.

Tech companies have long prided themselves on encouraging dissent within their ranks. They have positioned themselves as bastions of free expression and debate. But now that more employees are emboldened to speak publicly, the companies are cracking down in attempts to protect their reputations. Silicon Valley historian Margaret O’Mara believes the pandemic has accelerated tensions. She says tech workers, like employees everywhere, are increasingly questioning the meaning of work in their lives.

“This does feel like a new moment,” O’Mara said. “It is reflecting how enormous these companies have become. That is shifting the culture. There are more voices. There are more perspectives. There’s less tolerance of just taking these executives at their word.” Whistleblower says speaking out at Google cost her financially and emotionally

Chelsey Glasson, a former Google researcher, said as more tech workers come forward, they should anticipate the ramifications. Glasson left Google in 2019, after blowing the whistle about what she saw as discrimination against pregnant employees. She is still grappling with the impact of that decision on her career and her personal life.

Glasson gave NPR a preview of a speech she is giving on Thursday to the Alphabet Workers Union, a small group of organized workers at Google. In it, she says while Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen may have drawn international attention, there are many other tech professionals too fearful to speak out — and sometimes for good reason.

Glasson is now suing Google for discrimination. Google would not discuss the case. Apple and Netflix also would not make an official available for an interview. “Holding a big tech company accountable following misconduct, observed or experienced, is truly a marathon,” she said.