Apple sued by employees alleging unequal pay for women

Central to the new lawsuit is how Apple sets a new hire’s compensation. PHOTO: LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS
Central to the new lawsuit is how Apple sets a new hire’s compensation. PHOTO: LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS

Summary

The suit targets Apple’s hiring practices used to set compensation, as well as the company’s performance-review policies.

Two female Apple employees filed a proposed class-action lawsuit Thursday alleging the company pays women lower salaries than men for similar work.

The suit, filed in a San Francisco state court, targets Apple’s hiring practices used to set compensation, as well as the company’s performance-review policies. It is the latest in a series of pay equity lawsuits against major corporations, including large tech giants, that allege they underpay women and minorities.

The lawsuit seeks to represent a class of 12,000 women employed at Apple across several departments who have worked there since 2020. The plaintiffs allege that the company is violating the California equal pay, employment, and unfair business practice laws. The business practice law limits claims to a four-year period.

Apple didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Google and Oracle settled similar claims in California in recent years, pushing similar arguments about pay policies for new hires. Google agreed to pay 15,500 women $118 million to settle its case in 2022 and Oracle agreed to pay $25 million for 4,000 female workers earlier this year. The companies didn’t admit wrongdoing.

One of the lead attorneys on those cases is also representing the plaintiffs against Apple.

Central to the new lawsuit is how Apple sets a new hire’s compensation. Prior to 2018, Apple asked applicants to provide their previous salaries to determine pay, the suit says.

When California passed a 2018 law that banned employers from considering prior pay to set compensation, Apple asked applicants about pay expectations instead, the suit says. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that the practice of asking about pay expectations perpetuates gender discrimination because women have historically been paid less than men.

“If you do pay women less, you can’t defend it by saying they were willing to take less money," said James Finberg, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

One of the plaintiffs, Justina Jong, said she discovered a male co-worker’s W2 left behind on a printer in Apple’s Sunnyvale, Calif., branch. Though she had the same responsibilities as her male co-worker, she saw his base salary in the tax filing was $10,000 more than what she made, she said. She discovered the discrepancy several years ago, about midway through her decade-plus career at Apple, where she held several roles in sales, training, and marketing.

“I felt terrible and was shocked as well. I saw myself as a hardworking person, and collaborative, providing a lot of solutions for the team," Jong said in an interview. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe if I work harder, they will see that I’m worth just as much or more.’"

The lawsuit alleges that when Apple hired Jong in 2013, it paid her the same base salary she earned at her previous job. In the years following, the company never gave her the kind of raise that put her on equal footing with her male peers, the suit says.

Jong said it took her years to decide to challenge the discrepancy and sign onto the lawsuit. She said she was spurred by stories about unequal pay from other women at the company.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Apple faced a rise in employee activism. Apple workers organized to form a group called Apple Too to mirror the #MeToo movement, which gathered stories of discrimination and pushed the company to change its pay practices. The movement led to some retail stores forming unions.

The other named plaintiff, Amina Salgado, has worked at Apple since 2012 in various roles, including as a manager in the AppleCare division in the company’s office near Sacramento. She discovered she was paid less than men in similar roles, and she complained several times about the discrepancy, according to the lawsuit. Apple hired a third party to investigate, and after the report concluded she was right, the company increased her pay. She didn’t get back pay, the lawsuit says.

The suit also claims that Apple uses biased criteria in its performance-review system. Men routinely receive higher ratings for the discretionary categories of leadership and teamwork, leading to better reviews for men, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argue.

Aaron Tilley contributed to this article.

Write to Erin Mulvaney at erin.mulvaney@wsj.com

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