The decision is Pham v. Apple, Inc., by Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian, handed down three weeks ago but to my knowledge largely unnoticed until now. First, the allegations from the Amended Complaint, as repeated in the opinion:
Plaintiff Trieu Pham … worked for defendant Apple, Inc. … as an iOS App Reviewer …. As an App Reviewer, plaintiff Pham was responsible for determining whether software applications (“Apps”) were reliable, performed as expected, and were free of offensive materiaI. Plaintiff Pham reviewed Apps based on a pre-set of technical, content, and design criteria provided by defendant Apple; and plaintiff Pham determined whether to accept, reject, or hold each App…. Between July 2018 and September 2018, defendant Apple conducted an audit of plaintiff Pham’s App Reviews, identified reviews by plaintiff Pham that were purportedly erroneous, and issued plaintiff Pham a Documented Coaching Plan [DCP] …. Following plaintiff Pham’s rebuttal, defendant Apple reversed their classification of several of plaintiff Pham’s purported errors.
The most serious error identified in plaintiff Pham’s DCP was plaintiff Pham’s approval of a Guo Media App which was forbidden from defendant Apple’s China App store. The same App was reviewed and approved by a series of other Apple employees, including three Chinese App Reviewers, yet none of them were disciplined for approval of the App as plaintiff Pham was. All of the Apps identified by defendant Apple’s management team as being “erroneously approved’ by plaintiff Pham in the DCP remained on defendant Apple’s App store following the audit and remain there to date.
Guo Media was established by Guo Wengui …, a Chinese dissident who fled China in 2014 to seek asylum in the United States. Guo remains wanted by the Chinese government for a series of alleged crimes. Guo regularly uses Guo Media to publicize claims of corruption against Chinese government officials and members of the Chinese Communist Part. After plaintiff Pham approved the Guo Media App, the Chinese government contacted defendant Apple and demanded that the Guo Media App be removed from defendant Apple’s App store. Defendant Apple then performed an internal investigation and identified plaintiff Pham as the App Reviewer who approved the Guo Media App.
In or around late September 2018, shortly after defendant Apple provided plaintiff Pham with the DCP, plaintiff Pham was called to a meeting to discuss the Guo Media App with multiple defendant Apple supervisors and managers. At this meeting, defendant Apple supervisors stated that the Guo Media App is critical of the Chinese government and, therefore, should be removed from the App store. Plaintiff Pham responded staling the Guo Media App publishes valid claims of corruption against the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party and, therefore, should not be taken down. Plaintiff Pham further told his supervisors that the Guo Media App does not contain violent content or incite violence; does not violate any of defendant Apple’s policies and procedures regarding Apps; and, therefore, it should remain on the App store as a matter of free speech.
Plaintiff Pham also stated at this meeting that removing the Guo Media App under pressure from the Chinese government amounts to censorship. A few days later, plaintiff Pham met with [a supervisor] and again reiterated that the Guo Media App should not be taken down and Guo is entitled to publish his opinions. In the following weeks, plaintiff Pham discussed the Guo Media App with colleagues and relayed what transpired in his meetings with defendant Apple managers. Defendant Apple became aware of plaintiff Pham’s criticism and defendant Apple’s managers responded by retaliating against plaintiff Pham and ultimately terminating plaintiff Pham.
Plaintiff Pham believes the DCP was pretextual and created by defendant Apple to appease the Chinese government and to signal to China that defendant Apple did not approve an App created by Guo. The DCP was created to punish and retaliate against employees who spoke out against censorship or complained and refused to remove Apps that the Chinese government objected to on political grounds. …