Amazon is facing a class action lawsuit over accusations that it failed to provide protective equipment for its “predominantly minority” warehouse workers.
Christian Smalls, who was sacked by the retailer earlier this year after staging a walkout in protest of Amazon’s response to the pandemic, filed proposals for the class action lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court today.
Smalls is seeking unspecified damages from Amazon, which he has accused of discrimination, violating New York City’s human rights laws and failing to provide Black and Hispanic workers with sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) compared to its largely white management staff.
“I was a loyal worker and gave my all to Amazon until I was unceremoniously terminated and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash because I insisted that Amazon protect its dedicated workers from COVID-19,” Smalls said in a statement.
“I just wanted Amazon to provide basic protective gear to the workers and sanitize the workplace.”
He has also accused Amazon of firing him after concluding he was a “weak spokesman” for workers because he was a Black man, citing a leaked memo from Amazon’s general council to its chief executive Jeff Bezos.
In late March Amazon sacked Smalls, a worker at the Staten Island facility who had organised strikes to protest working conditions and safety measures at the facility during the outbreak, sparking an investigation by New York’s commission on human rights.
While Smalls claims Amazon fired him because of the strike action, Amazon maintains that it was because Smalls had violated “social distancing guidelines”, coming into the warehouse to lead the strike despite being told by management to self-isolate for 14-days.
“Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came on site today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk,” Amazon said at the time.
Amazon has not commented directly on the lawsuit.
The retailer has faced significant criticism for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the protection provided for staff, with over 19,000 employees contracting the virus.
Despite tens of thousands of employees having contracted the virus, Amazon says that its own analysis suggested the infection rate was 42 per cent lower than expected based on infection rates across the US.
According to Amazon, 33,952 of its total 1.37 million workers would have contracted the virus if infection rates matched the US average, instead of its 19,816 it recorded between March 1 and September 19.