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Amazon.com Hit With Multiple Lawsuits for Workplace Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation

Amazon.com has established itself as the largest retailer in the world over the past couple of decades. Promising fast deliveries of products, the company has swiftly grown and is now relied upon by tens of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, however, the company has developed a reputation for treating its workers unfairly. Most recently, the company was sued by five different women based on alleged discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The lawsuits were filed on May 19 in California, Delaware, Washington, and Arizona by women who were employed in the company's logistical operations, headquarters, and regional offices.[1]

The lawsuits

These five lawsuits follow another high-profile discrimination case filed against Amazon earlier this year. The company claims that it has investigated what happened in each of the five lawsuits and has not found any evidence to support the women's claims. The company also claims that it fosters an inclusive and diverse culture and does not tolerate discrimination. It also stated that it encourages its employees to file complaints with management or by using a hotline without risk of retaliation.

Amazon is known for its tough workplace culture and the high degree of pressure its workers face. The company outlined plans to promote more Black and female employees in April. However, the women's lawsuits allege a pervasive culture of discrimination at every level within the company's hierarchy.

Discrimination lawsuit in Arizona against Amazon

Tiffany Godwin was hired to work in the human resources group at Amazon in 2019. She is a Black woman and alleged in her complaint that her supervisors, who were all white, treated her as if she was a second-class citizen. She alleged that despite being more qualified, the company promoted younger white men who were not as qualified as her while rejecting her for promotions.

Harassment and retaliation lawsuit in Delaware against Amazon

Emily Sousa was hired by Amazon to work at a facility in Pennsylvania as a shift manager in 2020. She alleged that her supervisor subjected her to continuous sexual harassment and attempted to get her to engage in a sexual relationship with him. When she refused his advances, she was allegedly demoted and transferred to a different facility.

Retaliation and discrimination lawsuit in Washington against Amazon

Diana Cuervo worked as a manager in Everett, Washington at an Amazon warehouse. A Latina, she reportedly was targeted by her manager with repeated racist comments. After she submitted a discrimination complaint with human resources, the company reportedly fired her.

Racial discrimination lawsuit in Washington against Amazon

Pearl Thomas worked at Amazon's Seattle headquarters in the Amazon Web Services cloud division and is a Black woman. She reported that during the pandemic, she met with her manager to talk about the return-to-work plans after the pandemic virtually. When the meeting was over, she alleged that her manager said the "N" word before he ended the call.

Equal pay, gender discrimination, and retaliation lawsuit in California against Amazon

Cindy Warner is a gay woman who was hired by Amazon in Feb. 2020 to work in the professional services group for Amazon Web Services in a senior position. She alleged that the other executives were predominantly white males who targeted her for sexist and abusive treatment. She alleged that she complained about gender discrimination within the department, leading her supervisor to pass over her for promotions in retaliation. She was subsequently fired from the company in April.

Establishing a prima facie case of discrimination

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating against applicants and workers in all aspects of employment on the basis of their protected characteristics. These protected statuses include the following:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • National origin
  • Gender identity

Several other federal laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act also prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of age if over 40, genetic information, disability status, and pregnancy status. Title VII also provides protection to workers from retaliation for filing discrimination complaints or participating in investigations of discrimination complaints.

When an employee files a discrimination complaint against an employer under Title VII, he or she will be required to present enough evidence to establish a prima facie discrimination case. This means that each of the five women listed above will need to present sufficient evidence for a jury or judge to infer that discrimination occurred. After the plaintiff has met the burden of proof, the burden will then switch to the employer. The employer will then need to present evidence that it had a non-discriminatory and legitimate reason for making its employment decision. The employee will then be given the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented by the employer to show that the reasons the employer provided for making the decision were pretextual and that the real reasons were discriminatory.

How a prima facie case of discrimination is made

Plaintiffs must meet each part of a four-part test to establish prima facie discrimination cases under Title VII. If the employee can present enough evidence to support each of the four elements, the burden will shift to the employer to show that its employment decision was not discriminatory. If the plaintiff is unable to present a prima facie discrimination case, the employer will ask for the court to dismiss the claim.

To meet the burden of proof for a prima facie discrimination case, the plaintiff will need to prove each of the following elements:

  • The employee is a member of a protected group based on race, sex, color, or etc.
  • The employee was fully qualified for the position or was performing the job well and meeting the job expectations.
  • The employee was not hired, not promoted, or was fired.
  • The employer chose someone for the position who was not a member of the protected group and was less qualified.
Establishing a prima facie case of harassment

For sexual harassment claims, the plaintiff must also present evidence to establish a prima facie case of harassment before the burden will shift to the employer.[2] Harassment claims may be based on the creation of a hostile work environment or on quid pro quo harassment. In Sousa's Delaware case against Amazon, she might be arguing for either type of harassment.

Hostile work environment harassment can include situations in which the sexual comments and unwelcome advances are ongoing and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor conditions a job advancement or a potential demotion on giving into sexual advances. In Sousa's case, she alleges ongoing comments as well as an attempt by her supervisor to get her to submit to his sexual advances or risk a demotion. To establish a prima facie case of hostile work environment harassment, a plaintiff must prove each of the following elements:

  • The plaintiff is a member of a protected group.
  • The plaintiff was targeted for unwelcome harassment.
  • The harassment was based on the plaintiff's membership in the protected group.
  • The harassing conduct was pervasive enough that it affected the terms and conditions of the plaintiff's job.
  • The employer either knew or should have known about what was happening but failed to do anything to stop it.

Sousa's case also involves a claim of retaliation since she was allegedly demoted and transferred to a different facility after complaining to human resources.

Establishing a prima facie case of retaliation

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination or harassment or who participate in investigations into those types of complaints. To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show the following elements:

  • The employee engaged in a protected activity.
  • The employer took an adverse job action against the employee.
  • There was a causal connection between the employee's engagement in the protected activity and the employer's adverse job action.[3]

Once an employee establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, the employer will then have the burden of proof to present evidence showing a non-discriminatory and legitimate reason for making the decision. For example, the employer might claim that the employee lost the job because of misconduct or poor performance instead of a discriminatory reason. If the employer meets its burden, the employee will then be able to rebut the evidence by presenting proof that the reason given is pretextual and has only been used to mask the true discriminatory reason.

Get help from an experienced discrimination attorney

Amazon is not alone in allowing potentially discriminatory practices to flourish in its workplaces. If you are a member of a protected group and believe that your employer has engaged in unlawful discrimination or harassment based on your protected status, you should talk to an experienced lawyer at Steven M. Sweat APC. Call us today to request a free consultation at 866.966.5240.

Sources

[1] https://finance.yahoo.com/news/amazon-sued-five-women-alleging-000638882.html
[2] https://www.elaborlaw.com/sexual-harassment.html
[3] https://www.elaborlaw.com/retaliation.html

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