Apple accused in lawsuit of underpaying female workers in California

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows Apple logo

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) -Apple on Thursday was hit with a proposed class action accusing the tech giant of paying more than 12,000 female employees in California less than men with comparable jobs.

The lawsuit filed in state court in San Francisco by two women who have worked at Apple for more than a decade claims the company systematically underpays female workers in its engineering, marketing, and AppleCare divisions.

Apple bases workers' starting pay on their salaries at previous jobs or on their "pay expectations," which results in lower pay rates for women, according to the complaint. The lawsuit also claims that Apple's performance evaluation system, which it uses to set raises and bonuses, is biased against women.

Cupertino, California-based Apple in a statement said it is committed to inclusion and pay equity.

"Since 2017, Apple has achieved and maintained gender pay equity and every year we partner with an independent third-party expert to examine each team member’s total compensation and make adjustments, where necessary, to ensure that we maintain pay equity," the company said.

Eve Cervantez, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Apple's practices perpetuate and widen existing gender pay gaps.

“This is a no-win situation for female employees at Apple,” Cervantez said in a statement.

The plaintiffs are represented by class action law firms Outten & Golden, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and Altshuler Berzon. The firms have brokered massive settlements in other sex bias cases, including a $215 million deal with Goldman Sachs last year and a $175 million settlement with Sterling Jewelers in 2022. Those companies denied wrongdoing.

California has since 2018 prohibited employers from asking job applicants about their salary history with the goal of eliminating pay gaps based on sex and race.

According to Thursday's lawsuit, Apple instead relies on applicants' pay expectations to set their salaries. But because most workers provide a figure that is slightly higher than what they earned at their last job, the practice has the same effect of perpetuating wage disparities, the lawsuit says.

Apple also rewards employees who are deemed to have "talent" by paying them more but disproportionately grants that designation to men, the plaintiffs claim.

The lawsuit accuses Apple of violating California's Equal Pay Act, which bars sex discrimination in pay, and state laws prohibiting workplace sex bias and unfair business practices.

One of the plaintiffs, Justina Jong, also claims that Apple refused to transfer her to a different team after she complained about sexual harassment by a coworker. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and penalties.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Alexia Garamfalvi and Josie Kao)