Horror Stories From Notoriously Toxic Workplaces

Protestors Attend a New York City Council Finance Committee Hearing Titled 'Amazon HQ2 Stage 2: Does the Amazon Deal Deliver for New York City Residents?'

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Protestors Attend a New York City Council Finance Committee Hearing Titled 'Amazon HQ2 Stage 2: Does the Amazon Deal Deliver for New York City Residents?'
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Not Safe for Work

The video game industry has been held out as an example where frat-boy culture is pervasive and can lead to accusations of sexism, harassment, and bullying, including at big-name companies. But toxic work environments are present in other business sectors too. Apparel-maker Nike, for example, is making headlines after surveys became public that detailed sexual harassment of female workers, adding to the list of claims against companies for the way offices and factories are run. From Amazon to Uber, employers across the country are under scrutiny. If you've had an experience with a toxic workplace, tell us about it in the comments, but be sure to avoid using names.

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Large NIKE store at night with many people‘s silhouette
Robert Way/istockphoto


A sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit against Nike involves more than 5,000 pages of documents and records, including surveys from female employees that detail incidences of sexist behavior and corporate bullying. The documents became public after a legal challenge by several news organizations to lift a protective order on a lawsuit that could expand the legal action to a class-action suit involving about 5,000 workers.

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Twitter Headquarters


As the world's richest man, you might think that everything Elon Musk touches turns into gold. But some critics argue that everything he touches also turns toxic. Since Musk took over Twitter in October, the outspoken CEO has been in the headlines daily for his antics. From reports of employees sleeping at the office to massive abrupt layoffs, the toxicity at Twitter began with an ultimatum from Musk asking employees to commit to "extremely hardcore" work or leave and has continued since.

Related25 Times Elon Musk Didn’t Deliver on His Promises

White Teslas Charging at Tesla Supercharger Station at the Brea Mall, Brea, California


Tesla is known for its cutting-edge technology, but its workplace culture may be mired in the past. Last year, a federal court ruled in favor of a former worker, Owen Diaz, to the tune of $137 million because of hostile and racist abuse he endured. Diaz testified that he and other Black workers were subjected to racist graffiti and drawings as well as racial epithets, and were told to "go back to Africa." The award was on top of a $1 million arbitration agreement paid to another former worker because of a racist, hostile work environment, and a class action that claimed unsafe working conditions and a racist culture. You'd assume they made for expensive lessons learned, but in June, another lawsuit came out against Tesla CEO Elon Musk for fostering a toxic work environment in which discrimination and harassment are commonplace.

Mattel Corporate Headquarters Building, El Segundo, California


The toymaker Mattel was sued in May for age discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and wrongful termination. The plaintiff was Bernard Grisez, a “permatemp” set and scenery builder at Mattel for almost 20 years. Grisez had a good reputation among colleagues, performing outstandingly amid substantial responsibilities and never was disciplined. But Mattel passed him over repeatedly for a permanent role in favor of younger employees. In his suit, Grisez accused the company of harassing him because of his age, calling him an "old man," asking him constantly when he would retire and even teasing him by posting hurtful pictures of him around the office.

Minecarts of the Abandoned Mine Railway of the Ancient Rio Tinto Company's Copper Mine, in Nerva (Andalusia, Spain)
Minecarts of the Abandoned Mine Railway of the Ancient Rio Tinto Company's Copper Mine, in Nerva (Andalusia, Spain) by Gzzz (CC BY-SA)

Rio Tinto

A recent audit by multinational mining corporation Rio Tinto uncovered patterns of sexism, sexual harassment and assault (including actual or attempted rape), and widespread bullying among its global workforce. A review said also that racism was "common across a number of areas," and about half of the company's 47,500 employees in 35 countries had experienced bullying rooted in either sexism or racism. "The findings of this report are deeply disturbing to me and should be to everyone who reads them. I offer my heartfelt apology to every team member, past or present, who has suffered as a result of these behaviors. This is not the kind of company we want to be," CEO Jakob Stausholm said. The company has vowed to make substantive changes, including increasing diversity among the workforce, which is 79% male. 

Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) Offices in Silicon Valley, San Mateo, California
Sundry Photography/istockphoto


Emma Majo, a former security analyst for Sony, filed a lawsuit in November against the tech giant for systemic gender discrimination and wrongful termination. Eight more former and current employees have come forward since with accusations of sexism against the PlayStation maker. The company devalues women's ideas, makes it difficult for women to get promoted, and discriminates against mothers, they say. The suit also includes sexual harassment claims.

Activision Characters and Logo

Activision Blizzard

Video game company Activision Blizzard is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for fostering a toxic culture within the company. The allegations include bullying, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination. The culture within Activision has been compared to frat house behavior. Specifically, female team members on the "World of Warcraft" team allege nonconsensual physical contact, unwanted advances, and demeaning comments, including "jokes about rape." The suit comes on the heels of a two-year investigation into the company's toxic environment.

Walmart Truck Driving on the Interstate Near Bakersfield, California
Sundry Photography/istockphoto


The retail giant is popular for rock-bottom prices, but Walmart (and its Sam's Club) has been the subject of plenty of criticism, particularly about how it treats its employees. At one point it was the focus of about 5,000 employee lawsuits annually. Among them was Wal-Mart vs. Dukes, which alleged sexual discrimination against women with regard to pay and promotions. Others have said the company  forces employees to work off the clock. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing the retail giant for discrimination after an Iowa store provided a Black female employee an unsanitary area fo expressing breast milk and turned her down for a promotion.

Glow Networks Logo, Dallas, Texas
Glow Networks, Inc.

Glow Networks

Glow Networks, a Texas-based information technology service management company, lost a discrimination lawsuit brought by 10 former employees, resulting in a whopping $70 million payout. The verdict found the company guilty of racial discrimination including promotion denials, a hostile work environment, and unequal pay.

People Walk Goldman Sach's New York Headquarters on July 18, 2017 in New York City
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Goldman Sachs

Back in 2012, Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith penned an essay for The New York Times explaining that he was leaving the company after 12 years because of the toxic culture. Smith, who began working at the company as an intern while completing schooling at Stanford, wrote: "I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it."

The company came under fire again last year when a group of employees put together a presentation detailing work conditions that included working long hours that left them little time to sleep. Afterward, former intern Patrick Blumenthal sued his Goldman Sachs supervisor with claims of physical abuse and an intense drinking culture that Blumenthal felt was forced upon him, making him feel like he was in a fraternity.

Exterior of Apple Store, Adelaide, Australia


Employee emails describing Apple’s work culture as sexist and toxic leaked in 2016, with a Fortune article detailing some dozen unidentified female employees saying they were victims of a work atmosphere that allowed jokes about rape and gender stereotyping by male workers who described women as "nags." As of late 2021, an employee activist group called #AppleToo put the spotlight on reports from about 500 more former and current employees of verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and discrimination.

State of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo During Israel Day Parade in New York City

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Administration

New York's Andrew Cuomo said in August 2021 that he would step down as governor following an investigation into sexual harassment claims. A 165-page report from the state attorney general's office corroborated the accounts of 11 women, including nine current and former state employees, accusing Cuomo of making sexually suggestive comments, unwanted touching, kissing one former aide on the lips without consent, and groping a state trooper. The administration was a "hostile work environment" where people regularly cried at their desks, young staffers were targeted, and women felt like prey, according to the report. Cuomo has denied that he "touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances" and described the attorney general's report as false.

TV Show Host Ellen Degeneres Appears at 'The Ellen Degeneres Show' Season 13 Bi-Coastal Premiere at Rockefeller Center on September 8, 2015 in New York City
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The Ellen DeGeneres Show

"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" had a brutal summer in 2020, marked by one revelation after another about DeGeneres and the daytime talk show's culture. A comic famously known as being kind didn't come off as very kind in statements by employees and others in the industry. In addition to 11 employees speaking out (and a Black employee alleging racist comments), Hollywood celebrities have come out saying it's an open Hollywood secret that DeGeneres is one of the meanest people in the business. DeGeneres kicked off her show's final season with an apology. "I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected," she said.

Five Amazon Boxes on Doorstep of Home with Open Front Door
Jorge Villalba/istockphoto


Long before the coronavirus pandemic put even more pressure on workers to perform, there were plenty of complaints about Amazon. Employees have complained about everything from work stress resulting from high performance quotas to being subjected to timed bathroom breaks and having to work in social isolation. An investigative report from the Daily Beast in 2019 revealed that 189 emergency calls were made from 46 Amazon warehouse sites for "employee mental health episodes." Employees have described Amazon in the past as "a dystopian work environment that is shockingly hostile and destructive to employees' mental health." But Amazon has continued to make similar headlines. The employee-turnover rate is 50% caused by burnout from working long hours, Bloomberg reported.

NBC's "America's Got Talent" Season 14 Kick-Off at Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, California
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America's Got Talent

Actor Gabrielle Union spoke out in 2020 about why she quit "America's Got Talent" after just one season. She complained to NBC's human resources department about race issues, and such things as show creator and fellow judge Simon Cowell smoking in front of her despite her allergy to cigarette smoke, but Union said she was told nothing would be done about it. From Day One on the show she felt "othered," she said. "I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult, when I'm asking for basic laws to be followed. I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to."

NBC Logo on NBC Studios Building, Burbank, California
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NBC Entertainment

Top NBC reality television executive Paul Telegdy was replaced at NBCUniversal in 2020 after a slew of accusations he bullied employees. The report was linked to the complaints filed by Union at "America's Got Talent" but expanded far beyond, with current and former employees saying Telegdy regularly engaged in racist, sexist and homophobic behavior. Telegdy was known to mock "gay executives, sometimes to their faces; use homophobic and misogynistic slurs; and disparage or make sexual comments about the physical appearance of network talent," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

REELZ Presents 'TMZ Hollywood Sports' at Langham Hotel, Pasadena, California
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Racism, misogyny, and verbal abuse are just some of the challenges faced by employees of the celebrity news site and television show TMZ, a show legendary for its brash tone. BuzzFeed spoke to about 24 employees who came forward after a lawsuit was filed in 2020 against TMZ's parent companies, Warner Bros. Entertainment and EHM Productions. The employees alleged gender discrimination and retaliation, among other things. A spokesperson said the claims were a "blatant attempt to use negative publicity and inaccurate claims to force" a monetary settlement.

Bon Appétit Magazine Issue September 2022 Pasta Night

Bon Appétit

The popular food and entertaining magazine Bon Appetit found itself flooded in early 2021 with criticism from fans, contributors, and former and current employees of a work culture rampant with racism and inequality. The complaints extended to parent company Condé Nast. Business Insider published a report finding people of color were treated "as 'second class' to white employees." A podcast called “Reply All" had a team reporting in-depth on the catastrophe — until its members quit halfway through when fellow Gimlet Media employees leveled similar complaints against them.

Real Salt Lake pose at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah
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Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake, a Utah soccer organization, faced charges in 2020 from 13 current and former employees. Rebecca Cade, who worked as a sideline reporter until 2018, said: "It was definitely the most toxic environment I've ever worked in in my entire life." Owner Dell Loy Hansen is alleged to have made racist comments, and the organization's management is alleged to have created a sexist, misogynistic culture.

Toyota Prius Hybrid Vehicle Offering Rides for Uber and Lyft in San Francisco Bay Area
Sundry Photography/istockphoto


Aggressive. Unrestrained. These are just some of the descriptions that surfaced in 2017 amid a scandal surrounding Uber's work culture. Reports in The New York Times made clear just how unpleasant it was to work at the successful Silicon Valley's company, according to allegations by current and former employees, painting a picture of a place where "workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers." Some of the most disturbing accusations included a manager groping a female co-worker's breasts at a company gathering, and another top employee shouting homophobic slurs at a subordinate.

A Forever 21 Store Stands in Union Square in Manhattan on September 12, 2019 in New York City
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Forever 21

Sure, the clothes are affordable. But Forever 21 — where the CEO once hit a 30% approval rating — has been sued by employees on numerous occasions. Some claims are that the company forces employees to stay in the stores during lunch breaks, and stay on long after the end of paid shifts; the company was the focus of a class action filed by employees in 2012 claiming they were forced to work without being paid. But some claims go further: In 2017, an employee sued for "extreme emotional damages" after being filmed by a hidden camera in an bathroom.