Maksim Kabakou - stock.adobe.com

Lawsuit challenges Amazon's treatment of Black employees

Amazon is facing a lawsuit from a corporate employee who details inappropriate behavior of co-workers and broad allegations about the firm's treatment of Black employees.

Amazon is facing a lawsuit alleging it mistreated Black employees, keeping them in lower-level occupations, on longer paths to promotion, for less pay. The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, makes specific allegations about the behavior of some employees, but also argues that Amazon faces broader diversity issues.

The plaintiff, Charlotte Newman, hired four years ago as a public policy manager for Amazon Web Services, confronted "a systemic pattern of insurmountable discrimination based upon the color of her skin and gender," the Amazon lawsuit alleges. Newman began working for Amazon in 2017 after working as a top advisor to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The Amazon lawsuit includes allegations of inappropriate behavior of co-workers, including one incident of sexual assault where Newman says a co-worker groped her at a dinner with a third colleague present. Newman "bolted" from the table; the employee was later terminated, according to the lawsuit.

Public policy and Amazon's response

Similar to other tech firms, shaping public policy is a big area of concern at Amazon. The firm spent nearly $17 million on lobbying in 2019, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C.

Amazon currently has 16 public policy openings in Washington, D.C., alone. One job opening is for a senior manager of public policy, where Amazon is seeking someone who "will be responsible for effectively educating legislators, key agency officials and their staffs."

Congress is giving big tech's business practices increasing attention. As part of its investigation into online platforms and market dominance, the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law questioned Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, in July.

Bezos testified, in part, about the firm's effort to improve computer science career opportunities for people in underrepresented communities.

"There is a diversity pipeline problem in tech, and this has an outsized impact on the Black community," Bezos said.

In response to the lawsuit, Amazon released a statement: "Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, and these allegations do not reflect those efforts or our values. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind and thoroughly investigate all claims and take appropriate action. We are currently investigating the new allegations included in this lawsuit."

Charlotte Newman certainly is not alone among Amazon's corporate workforce in facing discriminatory treatment.
An excerpt from the lawsuit

The Amazon lawsuit details what may be a simmering problem of diversity-related issues at the company.

Many of Newman's colleagues "observed a consistent practice of paying Black employees less than similarly situated white employees, and a near-total lack of Black representation in and very few women in the upper echelons of the group's leadership."

A group of public policy employees at Amazon "grew so demoralized and troubled by the lack of attention to these openly unequal conditions" that in September 2019, they composed a lengthy memorandum with a "series of highly detailed policy proposals to address racial and gender-based imbalances," according to the lawsuit.

Newman "certainly is not alone among Amazon's corporate workforce in facing discriminatory treatment," the Amazon lawsuit alleges.

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