Christian Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse employee, filed a lawsuit against the company today alleging Amazon failed to provide personal protective equipment to Black and Latinx workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The class action suit alleges Amazon failed to properly protect its warehouse workers and violated elements of New York City's human rights law, as well as federal and state laws.
“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.”
Amazon did not specifically comment on the lawsuit but said it stands in solidarity with Black employees, customers and its partners.
“Amazon's mission is to be the earth's most customer-centric company, and this mission is central to our work in diversity and inclusion,” Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski told TechCrunch. “Diverse teams help us think bigger, and differently, about the products and services that we build for our customers and the day-to-day nature of our workplace – this is reinforced within our 14 Leadership Principles, which remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and constantly earn others’ trust.”
The lawsuit has support from Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said he stands in solidarity with Smalls and other Amazon warehouse workers.
“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities on so many levels, from warehouses to jailhouses,” Rev. Jackson said in a statement. “It’s an invisible enemy that is killing our communities. Chris' case is a classic example of how corporate greed and insensitivity can literally expose communities to untold and unnecessary risks.”
Smalls was fired from Amazon in March after organizing a walkout at one of the company's fulfillment centers in Staten Island. As a result, New York's attorney general is investigating if Amazon violated federal worker safety laws and New York state's whistleblower protections laws by firing Smalls.
Smalls' termination helped galvanize other warehouse workers who later formed an international organization to demand change inside Amazon's warehouses. Organizers pointed to worker retaliation as one of the driving factors for the formation of Amazon Workers International. Meanwhile, Amazon executives reportedly discussed discrediting Smalls and making him the face of the organizing movement.
An Amazon spokesperson previously told TechCrunch the company did not fire Smalls for organizing a protest. Instead, Amazon said it fired him for “putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of employment.”
“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines,” the spokesperson said. “He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14-days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite, further putting the teams at risk.”