Amazon Hit With Whistleblower Suit Over COVID-19 Protocols

By Bill Wichert
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Law360 (October 13, 2020, 5:22 PM EDT) -- Amazon has been slapped with a whistleblower suit in New Jersey federal court by a former employee alleging he was canned in retaliation for reporting that a shift manager at a Garden State facility flouted safety protocols aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

David J. Bailey, who was tasked with enforcing such measures as an Amazon.com Inc. learning ambassador, said he was fired in August soon after complaining that Kristopher Lauderdale refused to keep at least a 6-foot distance from other workers, according to the complaint filed Monday asserting a violation of New Jersey's Conscientious Employee Protection Act.

While working for the e-commerce giant and following his termination, Bailey said he realized that the company operated its business "unlawfully on a sustained and continued basis with regard to enforcing safety laws/regulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Plaintiff also discovered that Lauderdale had been reported several times by several employees for violations of said laws/regulations but HR either ignored or refused to pass the complaints on to upper management," the complaint said.

Bailey was hired as a learning ambassador in June 2019 for the company's Bellmawr, New Jersey, facility, where he "assisted floor managers, trained new associates, ensured that existing associates maintained quality standards, and enforced Amazon protocols," according to the complaint.

Those job responsibilities extended this year to enforcing safety measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the complaint said.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on April 8 signed an executive order directing that manufacturing and warehousing businesses "'require individuals to maintain six feet or more distance between them wherever possible' and 'require workers and visitors to wear cloth face coverings, in accordance with [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations ... [and] gloves, while on the premises,'" the complaint noted.

In accordance with such regulations, Amazon instituted safety protocols for its workers, including requiring employees to wear masks and maintain a distance of at least six feet while working at company facilities, the complaint said.

The company instructed Bailey that "these protocols were to be strictly enforced and that violators would be subjected to suspension or even termination," the complaint said.

As part of his enforcement, Bailey said he saw Lauderdale repeatedly violate the state regulations and company safety protocols by wearing a mask incorrectly or not at all and not maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other employees.

Bailey also noticed that when another learning ambassador or employee reported Lauderdale for such violations, the worker "would be written up and/or suspended by defendants' management for bogus reasons," the complaint said. Bailey said he himself told Lauderdale about his violations multiple times "to no avail."

Given the importance of Amazon employees' safety and health amid the outbreak, Bailey said what he was experiencing was "highly disturbing."

"COVID-19 related deaths and infections were continuing to rise unabated at this time, and plaintiff was dismayed by defendants' managements' failure to properly enforce Governor Murphy's emergency mandates and HR's clear condonement of disciplining, suspending or terminating any employee who attempted to report Lauderdale or his aforesaid violations/illegal conduct," according to the complaint.

In early August, Bailey saw Lauderdale and another manager standing and talking within two or three feet of each other, the complaint said. When Bailey told them they were not following mandated social distancing guidelines, "Lauderdale ignored plaintiff and visibly rolled his eyes," the complaint said.

Soon after, Bailey noticed that Lauderdale and the other manager "were now talking within just a foot of each other and tauntingly watching plaintiff," the complaint said. Bailey indicated his frustration and walked away from Lauderdale, according to the complaint.

Bailey said he then filed a report with the company's on-site human resources department about Lauderdale's refusal to stay at least six feet away from other employees.

"Instead of properly investigating and/or addressing plaintiff's complaints of defendants' managements' violations of state and/or federal regulations/laws, plaintiff was placed on suspension for purportedly 'threatening' Lauderdale, and then abruptly terminated just a few days later on or about August 15, 2020," according to the complaint.

Counsel for Bailey and Amazon representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Bailey is represented by Ari R. Karpf of Karpf Karpf & Cerutti PC.

Counsel information for Amazon was not immediately available.

The case is David J. Bailey v. Amazon.com Inc. et al., case number 1:20-cv-14306, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

--Editing by Daniel King.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

BAILEY v. AMAZON.COM, INC. et al


Case Number

1:20-cv-14306

Court

New Jersey

Nature of Suit

Civil Rights: Jobs

Judge

Robert B. Kugler

Date Filed

October 12, 2020

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