New York sues Amazon over worker safety during pandemic

Posted at 1:22 PM, Feb 17, 2021

New York is suing Amazon, claiming the company failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide.

The suit from New York Attorney General Letitia James comes just days after Amazon preemptively sued to block the suit over its coronavirus safety protocols and the firing of one of its workers who objected to conditions.

In the suit filed late Tuesday, New York claims Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” and retaliated illegally against employees who raised alarms.

James opened an investigation into Amazon last March after receiving complaints about lack of precautions taken to protect employees in New York facilities. That probe was later broadened to examine whether the company unlawfully fired or disciplined employees who reported the safety concerns.

Specifically, the AG office says it focused on two facilities, a fulfillment center on Staten Island and a distribution center in Queens, with a combined workforce of more than 5,000 people.

James says the investigation uncovered evidence showing Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing, and generally permitting employees to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from the risk of COVID-19 infection, among other things.

The suit seeks broad injunctive relief and damages, including:

  • Requiring Amazon to take all affirmative steps, including changing policies, conducting training, and undergoing monitoring, among others, to ensure that Amazon reasonably and adequately protects the lives, health, and safety of its employees.
  • Awarding backpay, liquidated damages, emotional distress damages, and reinstatement for former employee Christian Smalls.
  • Awarding liquidated damages and emotional distress damages for employee Derrick Palmer.
  • Requiring Amazon to give up the profits it made as a result of its illegal acts.

“While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns,” said James in a statement. “Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers. The workers who have powered this country and kept it going during the pandemic are the very workers who continue to be treated the worst.”

Amazon has defended its safety practices during the pandemic, saying that it has hired experts for guidance.

“We don’t believe the Attorney General’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.