Amazon’s legal battle with New York heats up as AG Letitia James sues the company over COVID-19 safety measures

GettyImages 1230935623 An Amazon.com Inc. delivery driver carries boxes into a van outside of a distribution facility on February 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California. - Jeff Bezos said February 1, 2021, he would give up his role as chief executive of Amazon later this year as the tech and e-commerce giant reported a surge in profit and revenue in the holiday quarter. The announcement came as Amazon reported a blowout holiday quarter with profits more than doubling to $7.2 billion and revenue jumping 44 percent to $125.6 billion. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Amazon has faced criticism over its extensive surveillance of workers and its poor safety record.

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon on Tuesday accusing the company of failing to protect its workers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Throughout the historic pandemic, Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers from the spread of the virus in its New York City facilities,” James said in a legal filing to the state supreme court.

James said in the filing that Amazon failed to properly clean, contact trace, and notify workers of positive cases and possible exposures in its facilities and that the company’s productivity quotas prevented workers from following cleaning and social distancing protocols.

James also alleged that “Amazon took swift retaliatory action to silence workers’ complaints” by firing Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer.

Last week, in a highly unusual move, Amazon sought to preemptively block the state’s lawsuit by filing its own legal challenge against James’ office.

“We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing last week, and we don’t believe the Attorney General’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told Insider.

In its lawsuit, Amazon alleged that James’ office didn’t have the authority to investigate workplace safety issues and that its safety measures had gone beyond what was legally required. Amazon also claimed James’ demands – including that it reduce productivity quotas, give up profits connected to any unlawful activity, and reinstate Chris Smalls – were unreasonable.

Amazon has previously defended its various COVID-19 safety measures.

Still, Amazon workers, workers groups, Democratic lawmakers, and federal and state regulators have repeatedly raised criticisms of the company’s handling of the pandemic, over which it’s now facing multiple investigations.

Amazon claimed in October that 19,000 of its workers had tested positive for the virus, but no independent auditors have verified the study and the company has refused to provide updated case numbers.

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