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Amazon discriminates against pregnant and disabled workers, New York alleges

18 May 2022 - 19:00 By Reuters
Amazon was accused of having policies requiring workers to take unpaid leaves of absence, even if they are capable of working, instead of providing reasonable accommodations.
Amazon was accused of having policies requiring workers to take unpaid leaves of absence, even if they are capable of working, instead of providing reasonable accommodations.
Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid./File Photo

The New York State Division of Human Rights has filed a complaint against Amazon.com Inc accusing the online retailer of discriminating against pregnant and disabled workers at its worksites, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Wednesday.

Amazon was also accused of having policies requiring workers to take unpaid leaves of absence, even if they are capable of working, instead of providing reasonable accommodations.

New York faulted Amazon for giving worksite managers the power to ignore recommendations by in-house "accommodation consultants" that workers receive modified schedules or job responsibilities.

State law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant and disabled workers who ask. It also treats pregnancy-related medical conditions as disabilities.

"My administration will hold any employer accountable, regardless of how big or small, if they do not treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve," Hochul said in a statement.

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The complaint came as Seattle-based Amazon faces growing criticism over its treatment of workers, including some whom have pushed for unionization.

Amazon employed 1.61 million people at year end, and is the largest U.S. private employer other than Walmart Inc. It operates 23 worksites with more than 39,000 workers in New York.

Last September, six Democratic senators including New York's Kirsten Gillibrand called on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate Amazon's alleged "systemic" failure to accommodate pregnant warehouse workers.

Wednesday's complaint described how Amazon allegedly forced one pregnant worker to continue lifting packages over 25 pounds (11 kg), and put her on indefinite unpaid leave after she was injured.

It also said Amazon reversed recommendations to let two disabled workers modify their work schedules, after their managers resisted the changes.

Complaints by the Division of Human Rights are confidential.

The Amazon complaint seeks unspecified civil fines and penalties, improved training, and new policies governing the review of requests for reasonable accommodations.

Violations can result in penalties of up to $50,000, or $100,000 for willful conduct.

Amazon's profit was $33.4 billion in 2021.

The company has also been the target of litigation by state Attorney General Letitia James.

On May 10, a state appeals court dismissed her lawsuit accusing Amazon of failing to protect workers at two New York City facilities against COVID-19, and illegally retaliating against two employees who protested the conditions.


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