Lioness | 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.

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.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.