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New York Sues Amazon Over 'Deficient' COVID Response

Suit filed by AG Letitia James also alleges it retaliated against an NYC worker
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2021 6:35 AM CST

(Newser) – "Amazon's extreme profits and exponential growth rate came at the expense of the lives, health, and safety of its frontline workers." So claims a lawsuit filed against the company by the state of New York, which alleges Amazon both failed to put in place COVID safeguards for its New York City workers and retaliated against those who spoke up about the situation. The New York Times reports the suit, filed Tuesday night by New York Attorney General Letitia James, involves a Staten Island warehouse and a Queens delivery depot. More:

  • The suit did not catch Amazon by surprise: It claimed in a suit of its own filed Friday that workplace safety is a federal issue and out of James' purview. It also mounted a defense, referencing a surprise city inspection that stated the company "appeared to go above and beyond the current compliance requirements."

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  • James describes the opposite, claiming that when alerted to scores of workers who had COVID, Amazon failed to undertake proper contact tracing; that it did not temporarily shut down the areas of the building where those employees had been as required by the state; that it didn't adhere to social distancing requirements; and that it didn't give employees adequate time to sanitize their work stations.
  • The Washington Post has some of James' more scathing lines in the complaint: that Amazon's "flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements ... threatened serious illness and grave harm." The Wall Street Journal has this: "Amazon's response to the pandemic continues to be deficient."
  • And as for Amazon's Friday filing, James painted it as "a sad attempt to distract from the facts and shirk accountability for its failures to protect hard-working employees from a deadly virus." A rep for Amazon said of the state's complaint, "We don’t believe the attorney general’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic."
  • As far as retaliation goes, the New York filing cites the case of Christian Smalls, who helped spearhead a March protest outside the Staten Island facility after Amazon declined to close it for cleaning following a positive case there, reports CNBC. He was subsequently fired, and the Wall Street Journal reports the city started investigating Amazon after that firing.
  • The company said he was on paid quarantine leave after being exposed at work and was prohibited from being on-site, but James references a written conversation between two Amazon HR workers who thought the firing was unwarranted because Amazon never made clear that its quarantine policy applied to the area outside its building.
  • The state wants Smalls reinstated and wants to see changes at Amazon around policies and training.
(Read more Amazon stories.)

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