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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Horror Stories From Notoriously Toxic Workplaces

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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?'
Drew Angerer / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

Not Safe for Work

Toxic workplaces are a trend among video game developers, with several big-name companies facing accusations of sexism, harassment, and bullying. Electric-car maker Tesla is also in the headlines (again) after being sued (again) for fostering a toxic environment for employees — but this is just skimming the surface of a wave of claims against companies for the way they run offices and factory floors. From Amazon to Uber, many notable workplaces are under scrutiny. Have you had an experience with a toxic workplace? Being sure to avoid legal troubles, such as by avoiding names, tell us about it in the comments.


Related: Big Names and Companies That Had to Rebrand to Avoid Being Canceled

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

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." This was on top of a $1 million arbitration agreement paid to another former worker due to 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 Tesla CEO Elon Musk is being sued once again for fostering a toxic work environment in which discrimination and harassment are commonplace.


Related: Surprising Things Tesla Makes That Aren't Electric Cars

Mattel Corporate Headquarters Building, El Segundo, California
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Mattel

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.


Related: How to Deal with Age Discrimination at Work

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 across 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 serious changes, including increasing diversity among the workforce, of which 79% are men. 


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Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) Offices in Silicon Valley, San Mateo, California
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Sony

Emma Majo, a former security analyst for Sony, filed a lawsuit in November against the tech giant for system 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

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 non-consensual 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
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Walmart

While the retail giant is popular for rock-bottom prices, Walmart (and its Sam's Club) has been the subject of plenty of criticism, particularly about how it has treated employees over the years. 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 alleged the company  forces employees to work off the clock. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing the retail giant for discrimination after an Iowa store provided a Black female employee an unsanitary lactation space and turned her down for a promotion.


Related: This Is Why Target Shoppers Steer Clear of Walmart

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

Glow Networks

Glow Networks, a Texas-based information technology service management company, lost a discrimination lawsuit against 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 extremely 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
ymgerman/istockphoto

Apple

Employee emails describing Apple’s work culture as sexist and toxic leaked in 2016, with an article in Fortune 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 around 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
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Administration

New York's Andrew Cuomo announced 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. According to the report, the administration was a "hostile work environment" where people regularly cried at their desks, young staffers were targeted, and women felt like prey. 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 of 2020, marked by one revelation after the next 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 another 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," DeGeneres said.

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

Amazon

Long before the coronavirus pandemic put even more pressure on workers to perform, there were plenty of complaints about Amazon. Employees have complained of 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." Amazon has continued to make similar headlines, though. Bloomberg reported that it has about a 50% employee turnover rate from burnout caused by long hours.

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 being severely allergic, 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 and talent. 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. An article in The Hollywood Reporter said 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."

REELZ Presents 'TMZ Hollywood Sports' at Langham Hotel, Pasadena, California
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TMZ

Racism, misogyny, and verbal abuse are just some of the challenges allegedly 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
Amazon

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
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Uber

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 allegedly groping a female co-worker's breasts at a company gathering, and another top employee allegedly 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 allegedly being filmed by a hidden camera in an bathroom.