By Brian Fung and Sara Ashley O’Brien, CNN Business
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a complaint on Wednesday against Amazon, alleging that the e-commerce giant has failed to provide reasonable accommodations to warehouse workers who are pregnant or with disabilities under state human rights law.
The complaint, filed privately Wednesday by the state’s Division of Human Rights, concerns Amazon’s alleged violation of state law by giving its worksite managers the ability to override reasonable accommodations recommendations by in-house Amazon officials — known as Accommodation Consultants — charged with reviewing such requests.
In one of several cases noted in the complaint, as outlined by Hochul’s office, New York officials alleged a pregnant Amazon worker was forced into taking unpaid leave after being injured on the job lifting packages weighing more than 25 pounds despite having an approved accommodation exempting the worker from heavy lifting.
Hochul’s office said the complaint “seeks a decision requiring Amazon to cease its discriminatory conduct, adopt non-discriminatory policies and practices regarding the review of requests for reasonable accommodations, train its employees on the provisions of the Human Rights Law, and pay civil fines and penalties to the State of New York.”
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement to CNN Business that the company is “surprised” by Hochul’s announcement, noting the company has been “cooperating and working closely” with the investigation into the matter and “had no indication a complaint was coming.”
“Ensuring all our employees, including those with disabilities and expectant mothers, feel safe and supported is extremely important to Amazon and we have numerous programs to ensure that’s the case,” added Nantel. “While we don’t always get it right with a workforce of over 1.6 million people, we work diligently to offer the best available options to accommodate individual situations.”
As the country’s second largest private employer, Amazon is known for its ultra-efficient warehouses that rely, in part, on closely tracking worker productivity and has faced scrutiny for high turnover rates and on-the-job injuries in recent years. The pandemic, during which Amazon’s workers were deemed essential, only exacerbated concerns over workplace conditions.
But the company has been met with growing pushback from some workers and regulators during the pandemic, including in New York. Amazon has faced unionization efforts at two warehouse facilities in New York City, which recently garnered enough support to hold elections. Workers at the larger facility, known as JFK8, successfully voted in favor of doing so, becoming the first Amazon workers to formally unionize in the United States. Amazon is challenging the results.
Earlier this month, a New York appellate court dismissed a lawsuit brought by state Attorney General Letitia James concerning the company’s pandemic response. Morgan Rubin, first deputy press secretary for James’ office, said in a statement to CNN Business last week: “As our office reviews the decision and our options moving forward, Attorney General James remains committed to protecting Amazon workers, and all workers, from unfair treatment.”
Amazon had previously disputed the claims in James’ lawsuit. “We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees,” the company said in a prior statement. “We don’t believe the Attorney General’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, following shareholder pressure, Amazon disclosed in a filing last month that it would conduct an audit to “evaluate any disparate racial impacts” of its policies on its US hourly employees.
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