Judge Dismisses Amazon Coronavirus Safety Lawsuit

Amazon has scored a legal victory in New York over its troubled Staten Island warehouse, that has been at the centre of Coronavirus controversies.

A staff lawsuit against Amazon over its alleged lack of Coronavirus protection for warehouse workers at the Staten Island facility has been dismissed by a US District Judge.

It comes after Amazon last month revealed that nearly 20,000 staff have been infected by Covid-19. That said, the e-commerce giant has undertaken a large number of steps to protect its workforce during the pandemic.

Staten Island Facility

For example, the firm built its own Coronavirus testing labs to monitor the health of its staff back in April, when the pandemic was raging around the world.

Amazon also implemented other anti-pandemic measures including taking the temperature of staff upon their arrival at work and spraying disinfectant on work stations.

Yet criticism has persisted, particularly about cleanliness in warehouses, and working conditions.

Amazon made headlines this year when fired a warehouse worker in its Staten Island (New York), for reportedly breaking quarantine rules at the firm.

Christian Smalls was fired after he had helped organise a walk out at the location (another took place in Detroit) in protest at Amazon’s alleged lack of protection of the workforce during the pandemic.

That prompted five US senators to send Amazon chief Jeff Bezos a letter demanding more information on the firing of Christian Smalls.

Lawsuit dismissed

Into this heady mix comes the news that a lawsuit against Amazon over an alleged lack of Covid-19 protections at its Staten Island facility has been dismissed by a US District Judge.

According to CNN, the lawsuit had been filed in June this year, and it alleged that Amazon had erected “a façade of compliance” to meet public health guidelines while simultaneously pressuring employees to report to work under unsafe conditions.

But the US Judge Brian Cogan said the issues should be raised with the US Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In his decision, he wrote that the workers’ claims and proposed injunctive relief “go to the heart of OSHA’s expertise and discretion.”

“This case concerns state and federal guidance addressing workplace safety during a pandemic for which there is no immediate end in sight,” he was quoted by CNN as writing. “Regulating in the age of Covid-19 is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter fraught with medical and scientific uncertainty.”

“There is room for significant disagreement as to the necessity or wisdom of any particular workplace policy or practice,” Cogan added. “Courts are not expert in public health or workplace safety matters, and lack the training, expertise, and resources to oversee compliance with evolving industry guidance.”

Devastating decision?

But his verdict was described as “devastating” by the plaintiffs lawyers.

“The Court’s decision to grant Amazon’s motion to dismiss the claims of workers at the company’s JFK8 facility is devastating for the health and safety of Amazon workers nationwide,” said the legal team for the plaintiffs, Make the Road New York, Public Justice, Terrell Marshall Law Group, and Towards Justice, in a statement to CNN Business.

“The Court’s deference to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration should be very concerning to anyone who cares about the health of American workers, given that OSHA has been virtually AWOL throughout this crisis,” they added.

The team said they are weighing an appeal of the decision.

And Amazon insisted it was doing all it could to protect its workforce during the pandemic.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees, which is why at the onset of the pandemic we moved quickly to make more than 150 Covid-19 related process changes,” Lisa Levandowski, an Amazon spokesperson, told CNN in a statement. “And, we continue to innovate, learn, and improve the measures we have in place to protect our teams.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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