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Amazon Hit With Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Assault and Discrimination

Amazon’s legal troubles continue to pile on.

A Black senior manager at Amazon is suing the e-commerce giant and two of its current executives for alleged race and gender discrimination, and for allegedly violating the Equality Pay Act, according to a lawsuit filed in a district court in Washington, D.C. The federal suit also includes claims against a third executive formerly employed at Amazon, alleging repeated sexual harassment.

Charlotte Newman, who filed the suit, is currently employed as the head of underrepresented founders, startup business development at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The suit claims that the discrimination started as soon as Newman was hired in 2017. Newman alleges that she was offered the role of public policy manager (a Level 6 position at Amazon), despite the fact that she had applied and was qualified for a higher-level position called senior manager (a Level 7 position).

Newman was paid at “level 6” compensation for nearly all of her first three years at Amazon, despite the fact that she was given and did the work of employees at the higher “level 7” including taking on assignments across North and South America, as opposed to only in the U.S., she alleges.

Newman also said she was paid less than her white coworkers, particularly in Amazon stock. She pointed out that while Amazon touts its support of pay equity, employees who are Black and/or female are in the “same job” (meaning title or Amazon Level) as white and male employees are “consistently being slotted into lower titles and job levels that do not reflect their qualifications or true role and responsibilities.”

In the suit, Newman alleges that she had to wait more than 2.5 years for a promotion to the level at which she should have been hired in the first place, and at which level she had already been performing work for in that time span.

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Newman’s lawsuit was filed a week after Recode published an investigation, cited in the suit, that detailed allegations by Amazon employees that Black corporate workers face bias, are promoted less frequently and are even rated more harshly than non-Black peers.

The article and suit are likely to stir up a backlash against Amazon, which said it was aiming to improve diversity and representation in leadership positions late last year, outlining plans to hire more Black employees for director and vice president roles, with the goal of doubling representation in 2020, and again over the course of 2021.

One of the three individuals named in the suit, Newman’s then-direct manager, Steve Block, an AWS director, employed what she believed were racial stereotypes saying that her communication style was “too direct” and “just scary,” and allegedly claimed that she “can intimidate people.” Other female employees also were subject to baseless, vague, and unwarranted judgments by managers, such as being deemed too “intense,” despite male employees being praised for such personality traits.

Despite an internal investigation finding that Block’s comments invoked gender and racial stereotypes, he suffered no consequences beyond “coaching and training,” and was “moved to a coveted role on a revenue-generating team,” according to the suit.

Another Amazon employee named in the suit, AWS Americas public policy vice president Shannon Kellogg, frequently complained about the personalities of other female employees, “which is not their common practice regarding men under their supervision,” the suit alleged.

Alongside his supervisory role over Newman, Kellogg is tied in with the third (and former) executive mentioned in the suit, the former AWS director of public policy Andres Maz. Maz allegedly engaged in repeated sexual harassment of Newman including repeated incidents of inappropriate, unwelcome touching and sexual assault.

Kellogg relied upon Maz almost entirely for his impressions and feedback on Newman, the suit said, giving Maz “substantial influence over Newman’s possible promotions, compensation, and other terms and conditions of employment.” Maz regularly assigned work to Newman and supervised teams of employees she was part of, which continued all the way into the middle of 2020.

With that in mind, the suit alleges that Newman’s progress at Amazon was held up “for years” by Kellogg, and also Maz by proxy.

Upon filing a written complaint in June 2020 detailing the sexual harassment from Maz, which occurred repeatedly throughout the three years he and Newman worked together, Newman was interviewed by an outside investigator and provided materials to aid Amazon’s investigation of Maz’s and Block’s conduct.

However, she received virtually no updates on the status of the investigation until learning in or around early October 2020, nearly four months later, that Maz had been terminated.

Despite the termination, the suit says that Amazon hasn’t “taken any steps to remedy the professional or financial effects of the opaque and subjective processes that kept [Newman] and other Black and female employees at lower levels, with decreased compensation, and out of upper management.”

Newman also says she was never consulted about how Amazon could go about redressing the discrimination and treatment she and others faced.

Due to fears of retaliation and the impact on her reputation and prospects due to as a result of having made a complaint of harassment and discrimination, Newman sought a position within Amazon that was outside the coverage of Block, Kellogg, and others in that area of the public policy division. But she received no assistance from human resources or other Amazon personnel in that endeavor, nor was any offered, according to the suit.

In total, the suit contains six causes of action: discrimination and harassment in violation of Section 1981, on the bases of race and/or color; violations of the Equal Pay Act; discrimination in violation of the DC Human Rights Act; aiding and abetting in violation of the DC Human Rights Act; Bias-related crimes/intentional acts pursuant to Washington, D.C. Code Chapter 37, related to, but not limited to, Maz’s intentional assaults upon and sexual abuse of the plaintiff; and assault and battery/sexual abuse.

Amazon, which says the claims are out of keeping with its culture, is looking into Newman’s allegations.

“Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, and these allegations do not reflect those efforts or our values,” a company spokesperson said. “We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind and thoroughly investigate all claims and take appropriate action. We are currently investigating the new allegations included in this lawsuit.”

The suit comes a month after New York attorney general Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon claiming the e-commerce giant’s “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” during the Covid-19 pandemic put the lives of workers and the general public at risk. James’ suit was in response to Amazon’s own federal suit against her and the State of New York for overstepping their legal boundaries.

James accused the company of substandard contact tracing and poor cleaning—both designed to prevent the spread of the virus—at two New York facilities: a Staten Island fulfillment center and a Queens distribution center. The Staten Island center was the subject of controversy early in the pandemic after distribution center manager Christian Smalls was fired upon organizing a walkout to protest the safety standards. Amazon said iy fired Smalls due to he himself having violated the company’s quarantining policy by coming into work. A worker at the State Island warehouse died of Covid-19 in May.