Apple Facing Justice Dept. Discrimination Accusations

  on June 27 2012 2:19 PM
  • Raindrops are seen in front of an Apple logo outside an Apple store in Shanghai
    Raindrops are seen in front of an Apple logo outside an Apple store in Shanghai Reuters
  • Apple Store
    Applesauce might be on the menu if Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) doesn't take swift actions to ameliorate members of a coalition representing Iranian-Americans and speakers of Farsi who were allegedly denied sale of iPads and other merchandise by Apple store employees in recent weeks. Reuters
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Applesauce might be on the menu for Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), if the company doesn't take swift actions to ameliorate members of a coalition representing Iranian-Americans and speakers of Farsi, the language of Iran, who were allegedly denied sale of iPads and other merchandise by Apple store employees in recent weeks.

The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, Iranian American Bar Association, Council on American-Islamic Relations and National Iranian American Council, sent an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday requesting that the company make public its nondiscrimination policy, retrain its employees on export control regulations and investigate the alleged incidents.

A copy of the letter was also forwarded by the ACLU to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, with which the ACLU has been in communication regarding the alleged incidents. While the coalition is currently only calling for Apple to do the right thing, according to ACLU of Georgia National Security and Immigrants' Rights Director Azadeh Shahshahani, the organization is in contact with the Department of Justice and is keeping all of our options open moving forward, including potential legal proceedings against Apple. The open letter to Apple states that the coalition expects the company to reply with specific actions to rectify the situation within a week of receipt.

The coalition also raised the specter of increasingly probable damage to Apple's brand image if the allegations continue to be ignored by the company.

This matter is of grave concern to many of Apple's enthusiastic consumers, the letter said. We expect that Apple, a worldwide brand with global reach, would not purposefully condone a culture of prejudice, discrimination and bias against any consumer, particularly based solely on that consumer speaking a foreign language.

In recent weeks Apple has been accused of racial profiling by multiple individuals who said Apple store employees refused to sell to them after learning they were speaking Farsi. Apple cited its Export Compliance Policy and the U.S. embargo against Iran as supporting its denial of sale, but the U.S. State Department has categorically denied that there are any laws which would prevent Apple from selling products to Iranian-Americans, Farsi speakers or Iranians legally in the U.S.

If Apple employees' conduct was based upon the mere fact that the individuals mentioned above were speaking the Farsi/Persian language and Apple's policy is to deny sales to customers merely based on a foreign language being spoken, this would be at best a gross misinterpretation of the sanctions targeting Iran and a violation of federal law at worst, the open letter from the coalition said Tuesday.

Apple made a statement to Al Jazeera last week saying, Our retail stores are proud to serve customers from around the world of every ethnicity. Our teams are multilingual, and diversity is an important part of our culture. We don't discriminate against anyone.

That nondiscrimination policy has not been made publicly available.

I haven't seen that [nondiscrimination] policy, Shahshahani said. If they do have that policy, and we hope they do, it should be public.

The coalition's letter cites the Civil Rights Act and case law going back to 1866 in calling upon Apple to release its nondiscrimination policy, change its training procedures and investigate the alleged incidents.

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