My coworker terrorized me and said he was part of a drug ring. When I told Apple, I was punished.
After my 15 years as a high-performing patent lawyer for Apple, the company prioritized a gun-toting colleague over my physical safety.
By Jayna Whitt
The first time Ted pushed me, it took me by surprise. He apologized, but this became the first of many violent outbursts that he’d then use mental disorders, suicidal tendencies, and substance abuse to excuse. Unfortunately, I was primed for this, having family members who struggled with mental illness. I would never abandon them in a time of need—and I felt the same toward him.
When I joined Apple as a patent attorney in 2006, I was the main income earner in my marriage, as my husband's income from running a small business was low and sporadic (we've been separated since 2016 but are still in litigation, primarily over his alimony claims). I didn't even own an iPod, but a trusted former colleague recruited me. My son was only three months old and my daughter was a toddler, and the move cut my commute in half.
The iPhone was launched the following year, bringing on massive litigation; the company's patent cases soon went from less than 10 to more than 150. In 2010, I became the Head of Patent Litigation and was compensated commensurate with the job's stress level. I soon found myself making over $1 million a year. I didn't come from money, so being able to provide for my family felt like a huge accomplishment. But all the required travel took a toll. With my marriage and home life suffering, I changed positions (partly to reduce the travel) in 2012 to become the Director of IP Transactions.
I met Ted (not his real name) at Apple, where he is also an attorney. His backstory was remarkable, but like many things about him, I now wonder whether it was true. He presented a history of pulling himself up by the bootstraps, ascending from a poor family to graduate from a top-tier law school, earning the praise of senior leaders along the way. He is charismatic, charming, and attractive—with a hidden dark side.
No one who knows me would ever characterize me as weak. But when Ted romantically pursued me, I was in a vulnerable place. Even after I realized something wasn’t right, I had so much on my plate between work, single parenting (my daughter refuses to see her father and has been estranged now for almost five years), and the divorce litigation that it took me a long time to put the pieces together enough to understand my safety was at risk.
Usually, Ted seemed perfect. He was thoughtful, loving and supportive. Not only was he accomplished, he was talented at seemingly everything. He cooked for me or sent me food, regularly bought me flowers, rented an apartment near my house, even offered to help with my crippling legal expenses. He showered the kids with gifts and took us on expensive vacations. However, there were other behaviors that subtly threw me off kilter. Peppered among the caring gestures, compliments, and generosity that built me up were mocking, cruel, or frightening comments that tore me down and undermined my sense of self. His mood swings were erratic.
At first, I did not recognize this as domestic abuse. But over time, Ted’s cycles through different personas accelerated and escalated. Eventually he was breaking down the bathroom door during a fight, grabbing me by the neck, throwing me on the table, holding me down, and spitting in my face.
I had built my career on being tough, but that did not protect me—in some ways, it made me the ideal target for a narcissist. He wanted status. He played on my blind spots, as happens with many people who end up in abusive relationships. The gaslighting clouds your perception of reality—and the shame keeps you trapped.
After each violent episode, Ted put in more effort to regain my affections. I vowed many times to never see him again. But he was persistent: he would wait patiently for a weak moment when something difficult was happening in my life, or pretend to be at the brink with his mental illness or substance abuse. Once the door was cracked open, he’d go to great lengths to prove he had changed and pull me back in, and I’d eventually succumb, telling myself it was only temporary.
Over time, the cycles became so exaggerated that one day he was berating me, and the next giving me a two-carat diamond engagement ring. Between those extremes, Ted would get into depressive states and make all sorts of claims. In the same way his violence and love-bombing escalated, his stories became more and more outlandish. He said that he was dealing drugs and weapons; that he’d sent thousands of dollars to a friend to put a hit out on someone; that he was a serial killer of pedophiles; that a contact saved in his phone as “CS” was his associate in the Sinaloa cartel. I could not discern what was truth and what was fiction.
It got stranger. One day, Ted hurriedly built a homemade gun silencer out of a water bottle, cotton, and soap, put on military gear, and sprinted out the door in a panic, saying a drug deal had gone wrong. Another time, he said he had to leave because the Feds were going to raid his apartment. He also told me he had a serious prostitute problem and his apartment was a revolving door for women. He claimed to have other homes and to have “more bitches than [I had] bands.”
I needed to regain some sense of equilibrium and put my relationship with Ted into some kind of sane perspective, so I began to look for answers about who he was and whether he had ever abused other women—or still was. I ended up discovering there were likely a lot more truths in the gaslighting episodes than I had thought. What I had assumed were bravado and delusions created by mental illness started taking form as reality.
I ran background checks, hired private investigators, and reached out to people who knew him. I went through his Facebook and LinkedIn connections and recognized several names as women he had mentioned dating or sleeping with, so I contacted some of them, pulling at the threads.
A local bartender who was also in some sort of relationship with Ted told me to “get a life,” and threateningly asked me if I knew who I was dealing with. A woman from a previous job who was sleeping with him on and off told me she still loved him and couldn’t believe I wouldn’t marry him despite his cheating. Eventually, another woman verified much of what I had seen about Ted’s narcissism, gaslighting, and substance abuse. He told her he had a psycho stalker—me. The more I learned, the more bizarre it all became.
Each time I uncovered something, it would somehow get back to Ted, and his threats and scare tactics would escalate. He told me his associates were going to have me killed for being a snitch, even though he was trying to protect me. He claimed his dad had a hit out on me, breaking down in tears because he couldn’t stop it. He told me I needed to hire a better PI. On worse days, he sent threatening texts, saying he was going to kill my dog, my children, and me. My mind would return to a time he’d stared into my eyes, coldly saying he owned me and would never stop coming back until I had nothing left for him to take.
When Ted became insistent we take our relationship public (and said he’d told his manager at Apple about us), I initially resisted. As much as this seems like a gesture someone who loves you would make, by this point we had become adversaries: I would accuse him of something and present my theories to see how he reacted, and he would deny but ask what evidence I had to prove it. Perhaps if we did “go public,” I could gather the evidence he mockingly kept challenging me to find.
So I finally agreed, and we posted a picture on social media. When I realized Ted had changed his settings so the post wasn’t reaching all of his contacts, I posted more pictures and sent some friend invitations to see if that would prompt others to reach out to me. To my surprise, one of my posts was flagged and taken down by Facebook, a company where he had at least one engineering contact. Ted texted me shortly after, saying I probably did not expect my “whipping boy” to fight back. By then, we were in an intense game of cat and mouse—which seemed at times to bring him immense pleasure.
In spring 2021, the electronic terror really began. My Dropbox files were getting deleted, materials I had saved about Ted were disappearing, icons on my computer screen were changing before my eyes, and my phone began spontaneously flipping through strange Facebook lists of “suggested friends.” I saw my iCloud account being accessed simultaneously from multiple locations, and my profile photo kept switching. Every device and account appeared to have been accessible and tampered with, thanks to my reliance on Apple's convenience features, such as Keychain and Watch Unlock. Purchasing new devices only led to them being compromised. Shortly after my router stopped working, Ted texted that it looked like I was having a hard time with my devices and he was sad it was happening.
I had no idea what to do. I feared for my life. Ted was armed and possibly involved with a drug ring. With all the gaslighting and constant threats, I couldn’t tell which way was up or down, but believing he was deranged, I was terrified. Once my devices and accounts were breached, I knew I had to go to Apple.
My manager said if I didn’t contact Employee Relations, she would. Though I am sure it sounded like a fictional psychological thriller, I frantically explained to Employee Relations that I was being threatened and domestically abused by another employee, and I described what was happening on my devices. I begged my representative to investigate without revealing me as the source of the complaint. I confidentially shared that I believed Ted to be a long-time con-artist, armed with guns, who was preying on many unsuspecting women and potentially dealing drugs. I explained that I didn’t have the resources to keep investigating or protect myself, but Apple—a company that had tracked down stolen prototypes and rooted out employees who’d leaked information—surely could.
To my shock, the Employee Relations representative seemed completely unphased. I pleaded with the representative to care—this man was a lawyer at Apple! Instead, he just kept repeating that if I felt I was in immediate physical danger, I should contact the local police. I had already done that once, only to have Ted later play rap songs about snitches and reveal he knew about the call even though I’d been alone in my house at the time. Too frightened to try the authorities again, I hired a digital security firm to help lock up my accounts. I moved to a different home and installed security systems and cameras. I once again replaced every device—computers, iPads, iPhones, TVs, router, even power strips—and replaced every account. I spent months and tens of thousands of dollars trying to secure my home and digital presence.
As time passed and it remained unclear whether Apple was doing anything, I put aside my fear of how Ted might retaliate if I pushed harder for an official probe. I sent over a few additional pieces of evidence, including a chilling video of Ted putting his Glock to his head and screenshots of his text message threats; I also identified women from previous workplaces who Ted had targeted and hidden relationships with.
The Employee Relations representative responded that the information I’d shared meant nothing, because I hadn’t given him names of current Apple employees to corroborate my claims. In August 2021, Apple closed the investigation—and officially reprimanded me with a memo in my personnel file. I was censured for allowing a personal relationship to interfere with my work, not adequately securing my devices and accounts, and being unprofessional during the investigation.
After I objected to the reprimand, I was contacted by the company’s Head of Threat Assessment. I had never heard of such a team or title, but he seemed genuinely concerned and said he would look into the issue. Both he and the Employee Relations representative promptly came back with the same party line: Apple takes safety very seriously, and if I felt unsafe at that moment, I should call the local police. So after they’d made matters worse, further jeopardizing my safety by going to Ted with my allegations, I was left with nothing but instructions to call 911 if he broke into my house with a gun.
It can be easy for an onlooker to wonder how I allowed all of this to happen. Certainly, my shame has been unbearable at times. It is hard to give up your stature, withstand the judgment, and admit that you were tricked and allowed yourself to be manipulated and abused. But I cannot stay quiet.
Ted is still a lawyer at Apple, whereas other employees have been pushed out or fired after advocating for equal pay or better environmental or labor practices. How is it that one of the world’s most powerful corporations was more afraid that Ted would sue than prey on female employees? Why didn’t our safety matter? Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook spent more than $630,000 last year for his own security measures—some of that to protect himself from a stalker who took photos of herself with a gun.
When Steve Jobs was CEO, the company’s culture was simple: Apple was tough, aggressive, and singularly focused on launching incredible products. Your outside life often took a backseat to your work. It was not warm and fuzzy, but there was no delusion or hypocrisy; you knew what you were getting into. Today’s Apple dresses itself in inclusive marketing-speak about championing diversity and promoting wellness, with special events, meditation apps, and employer-sponsored counseling. Meanwhile, substance abuse is not uncommon due to the high stress, and burnout is inevitable for many. Domestic abuse has gotten more prevalent as more people are working from home. The company actively encourages employees to report any and all concerns. But when a real case like mine bubbles up to test its values and principles, it becomes clear where Apple’s priorities lie. In my mind, “Employee Relations” would be more accurately called “Risk Mitigation.”
I would not be quick to call Apple out for one incident, but this experience was just one of many during my tenure that reflected a system and culture disproportionately disadvantageous to certain groups. Competition within Apple, even within teams, is fierce, and anyone viewed as weak or compromised will not survive. As one manager told me, “You’re swimming with sharks.”
When I first became a full-time single mom embroiled in divorce litigation, I struggled to balance everything, and my anxiety necessitated a three-month medical leave of absence in 2018. Shortly after I returned, my trusted, long-time, white male manager promoted my white male colleague without ever telling me of the opportunity—calling it “successful succession planning.” I ended up transitioning to work part-time, remotely. The following year, I was demoted, and some of my already-granted stock was taken back over my objections. Despite my strong track record, I was part-time–no longer Apple director material.
When Covid hit, I advocated for the de-stigmatization of part-time status, only to be ignored. I had become invisible. Then, once I disclosed I was a victim of domestic abuse, I was reprimanded, effectively ensuring there was no chance of getting my career back on track at Apple.
I recognize that I am still so fortunate; others suffering similar ghastly experiences are in much worse circumstances. Though I suspect this essay could bring my career at Apple to an end, I am writing it in the hopes that the company will change. If Apple treated me this way—a loyal, high-performing, long-term employee who’d reached the coveted director level—how is it treating others? A pool left with the fiercest sharks who managed to survive creates a hostile environment, is not diverse, does not lead to the best products, and should not be the goal. I would like to see an Apple where a dedicated employee who needs to work part-time is not demoted and stigmatized, where a person suffering from domestic abuse is not shamed and punished, and where empathy is practiced, not just preached.
As of the time of publication, Apple did not respond to our request for comment.