Dismissed pandemic discrimination lawsuit against Amazon workers

A former Amazon worker protesting the conditions at his New York fulfillment center sued the retailer Thursday, accusing it of discrimination for firing him and putting black and Hispanic workers at increased risk of developing COVID-19.

In a proposed class action lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn, Christian Smalls alleged that Amazon failed to provide its “predominantly minority” workforce with protective equipment and exposed them to worse working conditions than its mostly white managers.

Citing a leaked memo from Amazon General Counsel to Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, Smalls said Amazon fired him after concluding that as a black he was a “weak spokesman” for workers.

He also said Amazon tried to rally public support by making him the “face” of workers who criticized its pandemic response.

The complaint alleges unspecified damage to black and Spanish workers at the Staten Island facility.

Amazon fired Smalls on March 30 and said he had joined a protest at the Staten Island facility despite being in paid quarantine after being in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

At least three other workers who were critical of the pandemic were laid off in April and various suspected workplace violations were cited.

New York attorney general Letitia James wrote to Amazon later in April expressing “serious concern” that she was trying to silence critics of her health and safety measures.

In a statement Thursday, Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski said Amazon’s focus on customers “is central to our work on diversity and inclusion,” and that Smalls was fired for endangering the health and safety of others .

The Seattle-based company has benefited from the pandemic as consumers shop online more often.

Amazon has announced that it will invest $ 10 billion (around Rs 74,700) in COVID-19 initiatives this year to deliver products and keep employees safe, including distributing masks to employees and the Worldwide use of spray and temperature tests for disinfectants.

On October 1, Amazon announced that 19,816 of its 1.37 million U.S. frontline workers tested positive or were found positive for the coronavirus between March 1 and September 19.

That said, that’s 42 percent less than if the infection rate reflected the rate for the general population.

Last week, a federal judge in Brooklyn dismissed a separate lawsuit accusing Amazon of causing public nuisance at the Staten Island facility.

The case is Smalls v Amazon Inc, US District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 20-05492.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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