New York AG sues Amazon for failing to protect workers from COVID-19

The lawsuit alleges that the internet retailer isn't following regulations to protect its workers.

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Amazon warehouse employees protest outside the company's facility in Staten Island, New York, in March 2020.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The New York Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Amazon, alleging the internet retailer failed to safeguard its warehouse employees in New York from COVID-19.

"Throughout the historic pandemic, Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers from the spread of the virus in its New York City facilities," New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote in a complaint filed in the state Supreme Court.

"Amazon's flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health," the lawsuit continues.

James' lawsuit also alleges Amazon violated state anti-retaliation and whistleblower laws when it fired Christian Smalls, a worker at its Staten Island warehouse. Smalls' termination occurred the same day he took part in a demonstration outside his warehouse, but the e-commerce giant defended the move by saying Smalls violated a company-mandated quarantine order after he was in close contact with another employee infected with coronavirus.

The lawsuit comes just three days after Amazon filed a lawsuit against James, arguing that she's exceeding her authority by trying to regulate coronavirus safety protocols at its New York warehouses. The company said in its lawsuit it's hired experts, installed hand-sanitizing stations and posted signs reminding workers to stay six feet apart from each other.

"We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing last week, and we don't believe the attorney general's filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon's industry-leading response to the pandemic," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring Amazon to change its employee safety policies, conduct training and undergoing monitoring. The complaint also seeks compensation for Smalls and Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee who organized protests at the Staten Island facility and reprimanded for violating social distancing protocol.

Amazon has long faced scrutiny over its treatment of warehouse and delivery workers. In October, the company revealed that nearly 20,000 of its front-line workers had tested positive or were presumed positive for coronavirus between March 1 and Sept. 19, months after state attorneys general and activist employees called for the release of this information.

The release of the information was a reversal for Amazon, which for months avoided providing a detailed state-by-state accounting of coronavirus infections. Without this information available, some employees worked together to compile estimates on the number of infections, using message alerts from the company.