A Black Amazon worker, who was belittled by the company's executives as someone who was not "smart or articulate," filed a lawsuit against the online retailer for racial discrimination amid ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. He also alleged Amazon failed to follow state and federal health guidelines, directly affecting the company's non-white workers.
Christian Smalls filed a class action complaint against Amazon in the Eastern District of New York alleging that the company subjected its Black and Latino workers at its fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York to "inferior terms and conditions of employment." The lawsuit alleged that Amazon showed "greater diligence" in terms of health and safety only to those at managerial positions that largely comprised Caucasian workers.
Smalls' lawsuit detailed how the company failed to direct its line workers to remain quarantined after one of the employees was tested positive for coronavirus. After multiple follow-ups with the fulfillment center's executives, Smalls was told to quarantine himself but they did not provide him with specific instructions or duration.
The lawsuit also claimed that Smalls tried to pass on his colleagues' concerns about lack of PPE kits and no proper social distancing guidelines in the center, but was dismissed. He claimed that the management took notice when he went up to the executives with a group that included white workers to complain about insufficient protection for the employees. He said that Amazon ignored the health of at-risk warehouse workers "because the large majority of them were African-Americans, Latino or immigrants who were vulnerable because of their recent entry into the United States."
Amazon terminated Smalls' employment on March 30 — hours after he organized a public demonstration with 60 workers who demanded the company to shut down the building until it was cleaned and sanitized. The company fired him on the grounds of "violating its quarantine order and thereby jeopardizing the health and safety of other employees." Smalls refuted the claims saying Amazon did not have a policy on quarantine or contract tracing of those infected with Covid-19.
In April, Vice News reported that leaked notes from Amazon's internal meeting of top executives showed that the company planned a smear campaign against Smalls as a part of its PR strategy. The management planned to portray the fired worker as someone "not smart or articulate."
"He's not smart, or articulate, and to the extent, the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we're trying to protect workers," Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky stated in notes that was forwarded across the company.