Amazon sued New York Attorney General Letitia James on Friday to stave off potential legal action over its COVID-19 safety protocols and firing of an employee who staged a walkout last spring.
The retail giant came under fire at the start of the pandemic in New York as workers, including Chris Smalls, protested conditions at its Staten Island warehouse — prompting an investigation by James’ office.
Smalls, a management assistant, said he was terminated after organizing the strike in March, as COVID-19 began spreading among warehouse staffers.
In its Brooklyn federal court complaint, Amazon accused James of overstepping her bounds by launching the probe, which found the company violated safety requirements, and threatening legal action.
James previously called Smalls’ firing “disgraceful” and said her office was considering all legal options, while calling on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate.
Amazon claimed in the suit that its coronavirus safety practices “far exceeded” what was required by the state at the time — and that an unannounced inspection on March 30, the day of the walkout, proved as much.
“The Sheriff’s lieutenant who led the inspection concluded that complaints about JFK8 were ‘completely baseless’ and that ‘there were absolutely no areas of concern,’” the suit said, referring to the Staten Island fulfillment center.
In November, Smalls filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of black and Hispanic workers he claims Amazon put at risk.
Amazon said it fired Smalls for repeatedly violating social distancing requirements and a paid quarantine leave, the court papers said.
In a statement, James doubled down on her claims, saying, “Throughout this pandemic, Amazon employees have been forced to work in unsafe conditions, all while the company and its CEO made billions off of their backs.”
“This action by Amazon is nothing more than a sad attempt to distract from the facts and shirk accountability for its failures to protect hardworking employees from a deadly virus,” she continued. “Let me be clear: We will not be intimidated by anyone, especially corporate bullies that put profits over the health and safety of working people. We remain undeterred in our efforts to protect workers from exploitation and will continue to review all of our legal options.”
More than 19,000 — or 1.44 percent of Amazon’s frontline workers in the US — have contracted COVID-19 as of September, the company said.