Amazon Settles Whistleblower Suit Over Virus Protocols

By Jeannie O'Sullivan
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Law360 (February 1, 2021, 4:02 PM EST) -- Amazon has settled whistleblower claims brought by a former employee who alleged that he was fired for raising concerns that a shift manager at a New Jersey warehouse was flouting COVID-19 safety measures, according to a filing made in a New Jersey federal court Monday.

The matter brought by David J. Bailey, who was tasked with enforcing pandemic protocols as an Inc. learning ambassador, has "resolved as to all parties and all claims," read a letter to the court from Bailey's attorney, Timothy S. Seiler of Karpf Karpf & Cerutti PC.

The terms of the resolution were not disclosed in the letter or in previous filings, and counsel for the parties didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bailey was hired in June 2019 and worked at Amazon's Bellmawr, New Jersey, warehouse, according to his October complaint. The job entailed assisting floor managers and training new associates, the complaint said.

As the coronavirus began spreading across the nation in March, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order directing the public to practice social distancing by, among other things, staying six feet apart when possible.

Bailey noted in his complaint that Murphy the following month issued another order mandating that warehouses and manufacturing businesses enforce the six-foot distance rule and requiring workers and visitors to wear face masks and gloves while on the premises.

Amazon instituted the safety protocols and advised Bailey that they were to be strictly enforced and that violators would be subject to discipline, including suspension or termination.

While enforcing the protocols, Bailey claimed, he noticed that Kristopher Lauderdale, a shift manager, wasn't maintaining a six-foot distance from other employees and was either not wearing his mask or not wearing it correctly.

Bailey also observed that when other employees reported Lauderdale for violating the safety protocols, the complaining employee was disciplined by Amazon for bogus reasons, the complaint said.

To Bailey, this was "highly disturbing" given that coronavirus cases and deaths were rising, according to the complaint.

During one shift in August, Bailey noticed Lauderdale walking next to another manager and informed the two that they weren't observing social-distancing protocols, the complaint said.

In response, Lauderdale "ignored plaintiff and visibly rolled his eyes," according to the complaint. Later that day Lauderdale stood within a foot of the other manager and "tauntingly" watched Bailey, the complaint said.

Bailed said he filed a report with Amazon's on-site human resources department. But instead of investigating the claims, Amazon suspended Bailey for "threatening" the shift manager and "abruptly terminated" Bailey a few days later, the complaint said.

Bailey was fired on a pretext of "threatening" Lauderdale, according to the complaint.

"In actuality, plaintiff was terminated specifically because of his opposition to illegal practices of defendants' management, his refusal to overlook such unlawful acts, and in retaliation for complaining of/reporting same," the complaint said.

Bailey asserted one count under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act and sought compensatory and punitive damages, including for emotional distress.

Amazon is represented by August W. Heckman III and Rudolph J. Burshnic II of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

Bailey is represented by Ari R. Karpf, Andrew R. Olcese and Timothy S. Seiler of Karpf Karpf & Cerutti PC.

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

--Additional reporting by Bill Wichert. Editing by Karin Roberts.

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