12 Feb 2020 In Apple Case, Feds Green-Light Corporate Discrimination Against Conservatives
It’s time for Congress to take notice of the role the SEC plays in shaping corporate proxy ballots — and how that process is empowering corporate America’s march to the left.
It’s 2020, and the federal government just sanctioned corporate blacklisting of employees and potential hires based on political affiliation.
You could be forgiven for thinking I am describing 20th-century McCarthyism, or 17th-century witch trials, or even a twist on a George Orwell novel. But sadly, no. It’s 2020, and it appears much of our government’s historically backward thinking remains.
A few months ago, we at the Free Enterprise Project filed a shareholder resolution with Apple. Our proposal sought to have the Silicon Valley mainstay amend its equal employment opportunity policy to protect individuals from viewpoint discrimination. We thought it a simple request.
After all, Apple — as with most major American corporations — already has protections based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Some companies, such as Walmart and Coca-Cola, already protect viewpoint diversity by explicitly safeguarding employees from retribution for private political activities. Not Apple. Upon our request for Apple to implement similar policies, its lawyers recoiled with vigor.
With the high-profile ousters of Silicon Valley conservatives such as James Damore and Kevin Cernekee at Google, Brendan Eich at Mozilla, and Palmer Luckey at Facebook, it stands to reason conservatives in the Valley have real cause to fear for their job security. And there is ample evidence conservatives may face discrimination at Apple.
The iPhone maker previously rejected our 2019 shareholder proposal requesting that its board consider balancing its ideological makeup. Apple’s board is made up of overwhelmingly dyed-in-the-wool leftists such as former Vice President Al Gore and Disney CEO Bob Iger. The board strongly objected to our request, and the company voted to let its leadership body remain a leftist collective.
At the 2019 Apple shareholder meeting, an investor confronted CEO Tim Cook over the anti-conservative bias within the company. On behalf of her conservative friend who works at Apple and feels shunned for her viewpoint, she asked Cook what her friend should do. Cook, unable to refute the concern, suggested that staffers who perceive they’re discriminated against should feel free to talk to him.
That’s farcical. Cook lavishly supports far-left politicians and uses his helm at Apple to promote LGBT issues. Apple funds anti-religious freedom organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign. Cook has vociferously maligned state-level religious freedom laws.
Perhaps most egregious is Cook’s ringing endorsement of and funding for the widely discredited Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that lumps mainstream Christian organizations into a “hate group” designation with the Ku Klux Klan. Cook has given $1 million of Apple shareholders’ money to this bigoted organization. So no, I don’t believe conservative Apple employees should go to Cook with their workplace concerns, lest they be ushered off the company’s Cupertino, California, campus with haste.
If Cook were a man of his word — that all viewpoints are welcome at Apple — then why did he order Apple attorneys to fight our resolution seeking that very protection?
After we filed our proposal, Apple petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seeking to remove it. The company’s legal team sought to maintain the right to make employment decisions based on a person’s ideological viewpoint. We responded to that petition, thinking the SEC lawyers would surely reject Apple’s attempt to blackball employees based on politics. We were wrong.
SEC staffers allowed Apple to remove our resolution. So we appealed to the SEC’s commissioners, who refused even to hear our appeal. The SEC’s approval of Apple’s abhorrent behavior is bad on its face, but underneath the surface, it’s much more sinister. That’s because our resolution is nearly identical to a prior leftist proposal the SEC supported.
In 2019, Walden Asset Management, an activist left-wing firm, filed a resolution with CorVel Corporation seeking to compel that company to amend its equal employment opportunity policy to add protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” When CorVel challenged the proposal, the SEC ruled in favor of Walden. Our proposal followed the same operative language of Walden’s proposal; it simply sought protection for viewpoints rather than for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Rather than making decisions based on objective criteria, the SEC is now deciding the fate of shareholder resolutions based on subjective and decidedly left-leaning biases. In rejecting our resolution, the SEC made a mockery of the shareholder proposal process. It’s time for Congress to take notice of the role the SEC plays in shaping corporate proxy ballots — and how that process is empowering corporate America’s march to the left.
Justin Danhof is the general counsel of the National Center for Public Policy Research and director of its Free Enterprise Project. This was originally published at The Federalist.