New York AG who regulated Amazon's COVID-19 response and termination of employee sued
Amazon.com Inc has sued Letitia James, the Attorney General of the State of New York after she allegedly attempted to subject Amazon to state oversight of activities in relation to Covid-19 response and for terminating one of its employees.
Last year, Amazon had fired its employee Christian Smalls alleging that he repeatedly violated social distancing norms. After he came into contact with a person who tested positive for the virus, he failed to keep off the Amazon property and allegedly flouted the quarantine rules. According to Smalls, Amazon failed to issue directives to quarantine workers who tested positive, and he therefore organized several protests and demonstrations in this regard.
In the lawsuit, Amazon has alleged that within hours of Mr. Smalls' termination, and before conducting any investigation to ascertain these or any other facts, the New York Attorney General publicly condemned Amazon's termination of Mr. Smalls. Later, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) pursued an investigation of Amazon's COVID-19 response.
Amazon further asserts in the lawsuit that less than a month later and based on its cursory investigation to that point, OAG took the highly unusual step of making a "preliminary assessment" that Amazon had violated safety requirements—including the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act ("OSH Act") and its regulations—in connection with Amazon's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that Amazon had unlawfully retaliated against Mr. Smalls.
In a Press Release dated March 2020, Letitia James stated, "It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues. At the height of a global pandemic, Chris Smalls and his colleagues publicly protested the lack of precautions that Amazon was taking to protect them from COVID-19. Today, Chris Smalls was fired. In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited. At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane. The Office of the Attorney General is considering all legal options, and I am calling on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate this incident."
Alleging that Amazon did not follow basic precautions and endangered the health, safety and survival of its workers and facilities, Smalls had filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of African American and Latino workers in November 2020.
However, Amazon has stated in its current lawsuit against the OAG that it has taken "extraordinary, industry-leading measures" to protect its employees from COVID-19, and also claimed that the AG's office lacked "legal authority to regulate workplace safety responses to COVID-19 or claims of retaliation against workers who protest working conditions."
In the lawsuit, Amazon has claimed injunctive relief to prevent the Defendant (Letitia James) in her official capacity from causing the OAG to purport to exercise regulatory authority over (1) workplace safety responses to COVID-19 and (2) claims of retaliation against workers who protest working conditions.