On Wednesday, less than a week after Amazon filed a preemptive suit against New York Attorney General Letitia James, the Attorney General announced that her office filed a lawsuit against Amazon in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, for its purported failure to provide sufficient health and safety measures to employees at its New York facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint specifically addressed Amazon’s Staten Island JFK8 fulfillment Center and its Queens DBK1 distribution center, and the defendants’ alleged retaliation conduct against its employees who asked for more protective COVID-19 policies.
James argued that Amazon failed to maintain a safe work environment because it did not follow guidelines to reasonably protect workers from the spread of COVID-19, as a result, Amazon allegedly violated New York State Labor Law. According to the complaint, since at least March 2020 Amazon has failed to “comply with requirements for cleaning and disinfection when infected workers had been present in its facilities; Amazon failed to adequately identify and notify potential contacts of such infected workers;” and Amazon did not require social distancing or other safety measures.
The Attorney General claimed that “Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health.”
According to the complaint, Amazon employees began to protest these insufficient workplace practices, however, Amazon purportedly unlawfully fired or disciplined these employees. These employees include Christian Smalls, who sued Amazon, and Derrick Palmer, who filed a lawsuit over warehouse COVID-19 deaths and poor working conditions during the pandemic. Another employee sued Amazon for wrongful termination after he tried to enforce COVID-19 protocol.
James commenced an investigation into Amazon in March 2020 after numerous complaints about a lack of precautions taken to protect employees at New York facilities. The investigation included inquiries regarding Amazon’s handling of employees that protested or reported these purportedly unsafe conditions. The Attorney General noted that at the time these complaints were filed, New York City was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. As a result of these investigations, the Attorney General allegedly found evidence that Amazon violated various health and safety guidelines as well as New York law through its aforementioned failures.
“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,” Attorney General James said in the press release. “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. As we seek to hold Amazon accountable for its actions, my office remains dedicated to protecting New York workers from exploitation and unfair treatment in all forms.”
Amazon was accused of violating New York State Labor Law as well as New York’s anti-retaliation and whistleblower protection laws. The New York Attorney General sought, declaratory and injunctive relief, including: requiring Amazon to take all affirmative steps to protect employees; an award for liquidated damages and emotional distress damages for former employees Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer, as well as to reinstate Christian Smalls; disgorgement of profits from this illegal conduct. Additionally, the Attorney General has sought an award for damages, costs, fees, and other relief.