Amazon Sues New York Attorney General to Avoid COVID-19 Legal Challenge

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Amazon filed a lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James on Friday in an effort to avoid a potential legal action over its COVID-19 health protocols in its New York City warehouses.

The e-commerce giant accused James of overstepping her “legal authority” by launching a probe and threatening a lawsuit over Amazon’s safety measures and treatment of workers in its warehouses, including the firing of Chris Smalls, who staged a protest outside an Amazon facility in Staten Island.

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A spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment on the suit.

Amazon received criticism early during the coronavirus pandemic over the protections given to its warehouse workers across the city. In March, Smalls, a management assistant at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse, led a strike outside the facility to demand that the site have better cleaning protocols after coworkers tested positive for the virus.

Smalls was fired days after the strike, which he told The New York Post was retaliation for his protest, and James launched a probe into the site, finding that Amazon’s safety measures were “inadequate” and that it may have violated state whistleblower laws for canning Smalls.

Amazon hit back in its suit, claiming that the New York City Sheriff’s Office found that Amazon went “above and beyond” COVID-19 requirements at the Staten Island site during a March 30 inspection. It also said that it only fired Smalls after he “repeatedly violated” a quarantine order and social distancing guidelines.

The company claimed that the attorney general’s office did not take into account that inspection when it made its assessment into the facility after Smalls’ firing and that Amazon had already put into place much of the safety measures demanded by the attorney general.

It also accused James’ office of “exorbitant” demands that include the surrender of profits, and claimed the attorney general doesn’t have the ability to regulate workplace safety.

“Amazon cannot accept the [attorney general’s] attempt to subject Amazon to an inconsistent and unfair standard for workplace safety that is preempted by federal law and assigned to the primary jurisdiction of federal regulators — especially when the underlying facts show that Amazon has done an exemplary job responding to an unprecedented global pandemic,” the suit claims. “Since the start of the [attorney general’s] investigation, Amazon has been open and transparent with the [attorney general] about Amazon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The suit seeks to bar James’ office from “usurping” the authority of federal regulators in its potential lawsuit against Amazon.

“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,” James said in a statement. “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. 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.”