Amazon Defeats New York Lawsuit Involving COVID-19

Last year, the New York Attorney General brought a lawsuit against Amazon based on its safety practices during the coronavirus pandemic. The complaint alleged that workers at two Amazon facilities in New York City faced potential exposure to COVID-19. The Attorney General also argued that Amazon had retaliated against employees who reported safety problems. (An employer cannot fire, demote, or otherwise discipline an employee for engaging in this type of activity.) One of these workers, who was fired by Amazon, is now the leader of the Amazon Labor Union. Another worker, who kept his job at the company, is now the vice president of organizing for the labor union.

Amazon initially asked the trial court to dismiss the case, but this effort failed. On appeal, however, the corporation succeeded. The appellate court noted that a dispute involving conduct covered by federal labor law should be brought before the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency, rather than a state court. Regarding the retaliation claim specifically, the court observed that the NLRB is already reviewing a case involving another former Amazon employee who is arguing that they were fired due to illegal retaliation. The court felt that a state court should not proceed to the merits of the retaliation claim because this posed a risk of inconsistent rulings based on the same underlying issue.

Meanwhile, the court dismissed the claim related to inadequate workplace safety on other grounds. The lawsuit sought an order requiring Amazon to comply with COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines. Those restrictions are no longer in effect, so the court found that this part of the lawsuit was moot.

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