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Ex-Amazon Worker Sues Over Lack of Pandemic Protections

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A class-action lawsuit claims Amazon "knowingly subjected its majority minority line workers to unsafe work conditions" as compared with white managers. (Amazon)
A class-action lawsuit claims Amazon "knowingly subjected its majority minority line workers to unsafe work conditions" as compared with white managers. (Amazon)
November 16, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- A former Amazon employee is suing the e-commerce giant for failing to provide safe working conditions for Black and Brown employees in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christian Smalls worked in a warehouse in New York and claims Amazon provided white managers with protective equipment and enforced social distancing back in March.

But after Smalls requested similar treatment for his Black and Hispanic team, and led a protest, the company failed to do so.

CK Hoffler, Smalls' attorney, alleged that at the time, Amazon also didn't provide proper protections for workers in many other regions across the country, which led Smalls to speak out.

"As a result of Chris Smalls speaking up, engaging really in protected activity, he was unceremoniously terminated," Hoffler contended. "That's what this is about. And so people outside of New York absolutely should pay attention to this. In fact, Amazon employees internationally have stood in solidarity with Chris Smalls."

Amazon officials deny any racial discrimination in its COVID response. It also defended the firing of Chris Smalls, saying he led his protest in March while he was supposed to be quarantined, and that endangered the health of workers.

The class-action lawsuit looks to represent all Black and Hispanic employees who were impacted by Amazon's actions in March.

Hoffler noted the company could easily afford to compensate Smalls and others.

She said folks are relying on Amazon even more during the pandemic, and the company has made record-breaking profits since shutdowns began.

"We want the workplace to be better," Hoffler asserted. "Amazon should be held accountable, like others, for their misdeeds, for putting profits before people, for endangering the lives of people. Unfortunately, people have died at that facility. So this is real."

Amazon has several warehouses in Virginia and is building its new East Coast headquarters in Crystal City. It's expected to be completed by 2023, and the company aims to employ about 25,000 workers there.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA