Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Apple Stores: More Discrimination. Not So Thinly Disguised

Apple Stores in Georgia Won’t Sell iPads to People Speaking Farsi
WSB-TV in Alpharetta, Georgia has interviews with two people who were denied iPads and iPhones at two different Apple Stores after employees learned they were from Iran.

Sahar Sabet, 19 and a U.S. citizen, says it all started when an employee asked her what language she was speaking with her uncle.

“When we said ‘Farsi, I’m from Iran,’ he said, ‘I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,’” Sabet said.

“I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran. That would be your best bet,” Zack Jafarzadeh, who had a similar experience at a nearby Apple Store told WSB-TV.

On Tuesday, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on Apple to change its policy after learning about WSB-TV’s report.

“Apple must revise its policies to ensure that customers do not face discriminatory treatment based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “If the actions of these Apple employees reflected company policy, that policy must be changed and all employees retrained.”
Clearly this policy was intended for international export and not domestic individual sales. Whether it was a failure to explain the company policy effectively to its store managers or whether store managers simply took it upon themselves to interpret the policy in this way is unclear. Inter-company memos will no doubt show what went wrong.

What is crystal clear is that if Apple doesn't regain control of its customer policies, it will quickly get a bad reputation with such high-handed behavior.
In fact, the customers are simply being punished for telling the truth. They could have just not answered the questions. The message to customers is: Do not speak a foreign language in an Apple Store but if you do, be sure to tell any employee that you are from Switzerland.

In fact, these incidents aren't the first time that Apple Stores have been accused of discrimination.

Another Apple store employee, this time from a store in New York City, was accused of racist discrimination stemming from an incident in December 2010. Brian Johnston, 34, and Nile Charles, 25, later filed a lawsuit against the store 
earlier this year in February in New York Supreme Court.

The lawsuit alleges that the Apple employee approached the customers in an "intimidating fashion," invading their "personal space," and said to them, "You know the deal. You know the deal."
The lawsuit mentions that the pair were dressed in baggy jeans and hooded jackets. Apparently based only on their race and appearance, the employees considered the two black men "undesirables."
The employee allegedly told the plaintiffs that they must leave the store unless they planned to purchase something or see a Mac Specialist. Johnston and Charles claim that before they could respond, the Apple employee told them they were not welcome there because of their race.
According to the allegations in the lawsuit, the store employee made no effort to hide his true reasons for asking them to leave. 
"And before you say I'm racially discriminating against you, let me stop you. I am discriminating against you," the lawsuit claims the employee said. "I don't want 'your kind' hanging out in the store."

Johnston and Charles say they were "shocked and humiliated" by the alleged incident. They reportedly used their cell phones to record the confrontation when they say another Apple Store employee approached them.

"Now you have to go," one of the employees is claimed in the lawsuit to have said. "If you want to know why, it's because I said so. CONSIDER ME GOD. You have to go."

When the two men demanded to see the store manager, according to the allegations in the lawsuit, the store manager simply ordered the store security to 911. 

It may be easy to dismiss this lawsuit as an attempt to exploit Apple store's racial profiling and subsequent discriminatory store policies for personal gain. It's not uncommon. It is easy to dismiss a case like this until, of course, it happens to you or somebody you know. Whatever the reality is behind this particular case, any company that engages in discrimination leaves it open to lawsuits like this. 

Apart from the damage to its image, Apple, at least, might have considered that discriminating against customers just makes bad business sense. 

And if the charges against Apple from its customers were bad enough, apparently its minority employees have made making similar claims. In one case in Florida, a sixty-year old employee, Michael Katz, accused the company of denying him promotions based on his age.

"Katz was passed over for promotion multiple times in favor of individuals with less seniority with Apple and inferior qualifications," the complaint reads. "Katz was not provided with any explanation for his repeated denail of promotion opportunities. Rather, his supervisor simply denied that Katz had ever expressed a desire to obtain a [higher] position."
From Missouri, another employee lawsuit charges discrimination based on both gender and race.
In her complaint, she alleges that she applied for full-time positions was denied, even as other new hires were brought into the St. Louis store. It is claimed that in late 2010, the store had more than 100 workers and only eight of them black, and two of those eight full-time workers.

"I've been part-time at Apple for three years and there has never been a minority to be promoted to any higher paying position," DuBose wrote in the complaint, written in the first person.

DuBose alleges that in December of 2010 in a meeting with her manager she was told that she did not receive promotions because she created a "hostile work environment," and that several workers at the store were "upset" with her.
Unless Apple starts regaining control over its management, the company is going to be paying out a lot of money in lawsuits. Of course Apple, like so many other corporations nowadays, may have grown too big to care. 
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