Amazon Faces Another Claim It Discriminated Against Workers

Three Muslim employees have filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Three Muslim Somali women employed at an Amazon warehouse outside Minneapolis filed a federal discrimination complaint against the company this week, alleging they faced retaliation from managers after protesting their work conditions.

The women say Amazon violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to accommodate their religious needs, prioritizing white employees for promotions and retaliating against workers who participated in a rally protesting work conditions.

In a letter with the filing, Muslim Advocates, a nonprofit civil rights group representing the women, accused Amazon of “systemic violations of Title VII” and urged the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate the allegations.

Muslim Advocates did not name the women in the filing, but one, identified as “Ms. B,” said she stopped taking breaks to pray and use the restroom for fear of falling below a set packing rate.

“Ms. B received her first write-up for falling below the rate during Ramadan, when she was refraining entirely from food or drink,” Muslim Advocates wrote in the letter. “The charges detail that workers did not receive sufficient time to even timely break their day-long Ramadan fasts; workers also reported being told by Amazon management to quit when they requested time off for Eid al-Fitr, one of the most important Muslim holidays.”

All three women also participated in a rally in December to protest conditions at Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota, facility. Afterward, they said, they were treated differently by their managers.

“After the protest, I began to be treated differently, including receiving write-ups for low rates ― even though, in the past, I had occasionally posted lower rates but had not received write-ups for them,” one of the women, identified as Ms. C, said, according to Muslim Advocates.

Demonstrators shout slogans and hold placards during a protest at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota, Dec. 14, 2018.
Demonstrators shout slogans and hold placards during a protest at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota, Dec. 14, 2018.
KEREM YUCEL via Getty Images

Amazon spokeswoman Ashley Robinson said the allegations are not “an accurate portrayal” of working conditions at the company’s warehouses.

“We do not tolerate inappropriate conduct, including discriminatory harassment or retaliation in any work-related setting,” she told HuffPost. “We have several channels for employees to raise these concerns anonymously, if they are unsure of how best to escalate outside of going directly to HR.”

In a statement on Muslim Advocates’ filing, the company said: “We respect the privacy of employees and don’t discuss complaints publicly. Diversity and inclusion is central to our business and company culture, and associates can pray whenever they choose.”

Workers may take paid prayer breaks of up to 20 minutes, the company said. Unpaid prayer breaks longer than 20 minutes are also permitted, and “productivity expectations would be adjusted.”

This week’s filing is the latest in a string of discrimination complaints Amazon has faced in recent months.

Earlier this week, CNET reported that at least seven women have sued Amazon since 2015 with allegations that the company fired them because they were pregnant. According to the suits, all seven women were fired within weeks of alerting their managers that they were pregnant and asking for simple accommodations, like more bathroom breaks and fewer continuous hours on their feet.

The company denied the allegations, saying in a statement to HuffPost: “It is absolutely not true that Amazon would fire any employee for being pregnant; we are an equal opportunity employer, and are therefore dedicated to offering an inclusive working environment which accommodates employees of all backgrounds and abilities.”

Amazon is consistently among the tech companies with some of the most competitive benefits for new parents. The company offers 20 weeks of paid maternity leave and six weeks of non-birth parent leave.

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