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UK says Apple unfairly fired worker who took secret photos of a colleague

Inside Apple's UK headquarters at the iconic Battersea Power Station (source: Apple)

A UK employment court has ruled that Apple must pay compensation to an employee it dismissed over alleged harassment of a female colleague.

The incident took place at Apple's London Battersea site, which is home to the company's UK headquarters as well as an Apple Store. Process analyst Christoph Sieberer took two photos of a woman and shared them with a male colleague who was said to have a crush on her, according to The Telegraph.

One image was of the woman talking with colleagues, while another was taken from three floors above her in a communal area. In response to receiving the images, the male colleague reported only as Thomas, replied "that's my girl."

He also responded: "Look at bae there... so cute... working her a— off but still looking great."

That colleague, reported only as Thomas, later showed one of the images to another woman at Apple. She informed her manager, and following an investigation, Apple dismissed both Thomas and Sieberer for sexual harassment.

Now a UK Employment Tribunal has ruled that Apple fired Sieberer unfairly. Judge N. Walker said that "there were no reasonable grounds" for the dismissal, and there was no evidence that anyone who saw the photos had been offended.

It's not clear on what basis Judge Walker concluded that the woman who reported the images was not offended by them. The judge did further criticize Apple's harassment policies as being "vague."

Judge Walker ruled that while taking the photos was "arguably an invasion of privacy... this is a world in which there are cameras in all sorts of locations." The ruling does say that the photographs should not have been taken.

Sieberer has reportedly conceded that he should not have taken the photos. Apple will now be required to pay damages of an amount that the tribunal will set at a future date.

It's not known what those damages will be, but the ruling has made one unclear comment concerning the amount.

The court ruling describes Apple has having wanted to reduce Sieberer's typical compensation by 100%, presumably meaning it would pay him nothing. The court says instead that his pay should be reduced by 10%.

It does not appear that the ruling requires Apple to re-hire Sieberer, so the implication is that damages will to some measure be tied to his previous salary. There is no mention of damages being owed to Thomas.

Apple has not commented publicly on this ruling. During the case, it did tell the tribunal that it had changed its policies over harassment following over a dozen complaints from women.

It's not known which specific complaints those were, but in 2021, the #AppleToo movement began publishing accounts of harassment. In the first four days of its call for such reports, the movement received over 500.