Amazon Facing Whistleblower Lawsuit Over COVID Safety Concerns
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Amazon is facing a whistleblower lawsuit after employee David J. Bailey reported a manager for wilfully ignoring COVID-19 safety protocols and was fired shortly thereafter.
Employer retaliation is not uncommon in whistleblower cases.
Whistleblowing is the term used to describe when an employee reports or openly complains about illegal conduct at work, usually committed by superiors—as is the case in Bailey’s lawsuit. Employer retaliation occurs when an employee is treated adversely for bringing the problem to light, often by suffering demotions, suspension, harassment, and/or termination.
Whistleblowers are legally protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, which prevents employers from legally retaliating against vocal employees. When an employer retaliates against a whistleblower, the possibility of a lawsuit becomes even more prominent, a phenomenon actualized in Bailey’s lawsuit.
In line with national and state guidelines, Amazon officially instituted certain safety protocols for employees.
These safety protocols include a requirement for individuals to maintain a distance of six feet or more whenever possible from each other and to wear face coverings while on the premises. Amazon informed employees that failure to follow these and other safety protocols as dictated by the company and state law could result in suspension or termination.
Bailey reported an employee for repeated COVID-19 safety breaches, and was suspended then terminated shortly thereafter.
Bailey’s job as a Learning Ambassador for Amazon required him to monitor and enforce the company’s safety policies regarding COVID-19 and to correct employees as necessary during his shifts. When Bailey observed a shift manager violating these safety rules by not wearing his mask or wearing it incorrectly and failing to maintain a distance of six feet from other employees, he requested the manager correct his conduct.
However, instead of correcting that conduct, the shift manager allegedly rolled his eyes. When Bailey returned, the shift manager was now standing within a foot of another manager as they talked. According to the official complaint, Bailey alleges that “he and the other manager were now talking within just a foot of each other and tauntingly watching [him],” in direct violation of Amazon’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.
When the shift manager did not correct this conduct, Bailey reported him to their onsite Human Resources (HR) Department. Shortly thereafter, he was given notice of suspension and fired only a few days later for allegations of “threatening” the shift manager.
Bailey had previously observed that employees reporting safety violations would often be written up or suspended.
Upon consideration of the issue, Bailey pointed out that his situation was not the first of his kind in that facility. He observed that whenever a Learning Ambassador or other employee reported the shift manager for not following coronavirus safety guidelines, the reporting employee would soon find themselves written up or suspended for “bogus reasons”.
Bailey is seeking a wide variety of damages.
Damages is a legal term used to refer to the sufferings a person has endured as a result of another party’s conduct; damages may inherently have or be assigned a financial value which can then be compensated in a successful lawsuit. In this case, Bailey is seeking compensation and reimbursement for all back pay, front pay, salary increases, bonuses, insurance, training, promotions, and other benefits in addition to reinstatement and seniority in damages.
Additionally, he is seeking punitive damages in whatever amount is decided by the court to be sufficient for punishing Amazon for their failure to follow and enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines, as well as to deter them from allowing this alleged misconduct to continue in the future. Punitive damages are not particularly common, except in cases where one party has behaved with such gross misconduct that it cannot be allowed to continue.
Bailey is also seeking compensation for damages including but not limited to emotional distress and the cost of his legal action and representation.
With many businesses settling into the new normal regarding COVID-19 safety protocols, this lawsuit is likely to be the first of many similar lawsuits to go to litigation in the coming months and years.